REVIEW: Low Pay? No Pay! (Piccolo Theatre)

The workers’ sweet revenge

 Piccolo Theatre of Evanston - Low Pay, No Pay 001

   
Piccolo Theatre presents
  
Low Pay? No Pay!
  
Written by Dario Fo
Directed by John Szostek
at Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main, Evanston (map)
through October 23  |  tickets: $15-$25 |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

This may be the worst of all possible times to be a banker, broker, or “master of the universe.” Masters of disaster, more like it, since the economic crisis has revealed as never before what a house of cards our financial system has been, what a gambling den deregulation has turned the stock market into, and furthermore, what a perfidious and ineffectual democracy we have in its wake. Into the fray comes Piccolo Theatre with its ribald production of Low Pay? No Pay!, a slapstick comedy by Italian playwright and Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo. Be prepared for Italian socialism on the rocks. Director John Szostek and cast certainly rock it till it pops.

Of course, if you’re a Tea Partier or Rush Limbaugh or you still think that unregulated capitalism is the only cure for what ails us, this may not be your kind of comedy. No, it’s a play for taxpayers looking for a little comic revenge against the capitalist system, even if they’re not so sure about the alternatives. Come one, come all! –to Dario Fo’s manic festival of jibes against financial shell games, irresponsible political parties, battling ideologies and the hysterically desperate tactics of the working poor trying to survive. Oh, and let’s not leave out slams against religion.

Low Pay Don't PayAntonia (Brianna Sloane) and Margherita (Amy Gorelow) return home to Antonia’s apartment, laden with groceries. Antonia has just stolen them in a shoppers’ rebellion from the local supermarket. Prices have escalated to twice as high as in the last month and the working class Italian housewives aren’t taking it anymore.

Since a riot has broken out and Antonia and Margherita have gotten away with some of the booty, Antonia has to hide her stash before her law-and-order working class husband, Giovanni (Ken Raabe), gets home. Margherita stuffs her share of food under her coat, creating an all-too-noticeable bump that Giovanni can’t help but notice when he comes home. Antonia lies to her husband, telling him that Margherita is pregnant. But Giovanni cannot understand why his friend and co-worker Luigi (Glenn Proud), who is also Margherita’s husband, would not tell him about the coming baby. Antonia covers further, by saying that Margherita has been hiding the pregnancy from Luigi.

And so it goes. The lies build up, both on Antonia and Giovanni’s part, and the hilarity ensues over characters trying to maintain them. Old formulas, tried and true–but, still, congratulations to Szostek’s well-honed cast. Prepare to see pairings as classic as Lucy and Ethel, Rickie and Fred or, for the guys, Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton. In American terms, Low Pay? No Pay! is “I Love Lucy” meets “The Honeymooners” meets Inspector Clouseau—only this Inspector (David W.M. Kelch) is Italian, is a bit quick with the handcuffs and his mustache keeps falling off.

Low Pay Don't Pay Low Pay Don't Pay

Ken Raabe reprises his role as Giovanni from Piccolo’s inaugural production. His confidence and expertise with the role shines through. Amy Gorelow’s frustrated and run-around Margherita is a delightful, sweet gal pal to Sloane’s chatty and devious Antonia. Kelch does yeoman-like work in four different roles—my favorites were his Undertaker and Old Man. Proud’s performance as Luigi is as nice a prole as they come. Joel Thompson brings up the rear with his turn as the Inspector’s assistant police officer; only his comic timing could use some refining. Thank goodness he really sells the officer coming out of the closet. Goofy, good-natured fun is the key to Szostek’s direction. As much as upper class institutions and their political lackeys get their comeuppance, the whole cast keeps the comedy light, silly and fast-paced.

Lucky for them, the playwright allows changes in his material in order to keep up with our current events. Only the play’s ending doesn’t translate so well from its Italian origins. That’s because Italy’s social and political reality is not ours; its modern cultural creations could never be an easy fit for Americans who don’t know their history. All the same, these last 10 minutes are more than forgivable for a full two-hours of comic revenge. Piccolo’s revival is well worth that.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

 Low Pay Don't Pay

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REVIEW: Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry (Piccolo Theatre)

A royal cat fight

 

Amy Gorelow as Catherine of Aragon Denita Linnertz as Catherine Parr Brianna Sloane as Jane Seymour
 
Piccolo Theatre presents
 
Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry
 
Created by Foursight Theatre, UK
Devised by the Women of
Piccolo Theatre 
at the
Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main St. (map)
through June 5th | tickets: $15-$20 | more info
 

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Though its been more than 500 years since his rule, England’s King Henry VIII still ranks in the minds of many as one of the most boorish and misogynistic men to ever hold the title of head of state. That’s saying something considering we live in a world that brought us the likes of Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible and Adolph Hitler. Yet unlike these other wretched men, there’s always been a bit of a whimsical fascination with Bluff Harry from Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am” to Piccolo Theatre’s production of Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry.

Dani Bryant as Anne Boleyn Originally created by the women of Foursight Theatre in the UK, Six Dead Queens is one part cabaret, one part biography and a whole lot of comedy. It stars the six unfortunate wives of King Henry VIII all forced to spend eternity at a sleepover. Like school-age girls at an overnight, they talk about boys—or rather one particular boy—while poking each other with catty jabs—sometimes in the form of words and sometimes in the form of swords.

The opening scene sets the tone perfectly. As all the women lie concealed under the covers, the silence of the moment is broken by a well-paced series of flatulent outbursts. This dashes any worries that we’re about to be bored by a heady academic romp through history.

Next, each queen is introduced through song. There’s the spicy Spaniard Katherine of Aragon (Amy Gorelow), the beheaded Anne Boleyn (Dani Bryant), little-miss-perfect Jane Seymour (Brianna Sloane), dumb and ugly Anna of Cleves (Leeann Zahrt), the promiscuous Kathryn Howard (Nicole Keating) and the motherly Catherine Parr (Denita Linnertz). The actresses’ multi-part harmony is impressive as is their adeptness with instruments. This talent enhances the humor. What could be funnier than watching the very serious Katherine of Aragon bang out a bass line on an upright?

Characters squabble with one another in catfight fashion. Katherine of Aragon and her successor Anne Boleyn, whom the King tried to court behind Katherine’s back, row as do Boleyn and her successor Jane Seymour, whom bore the King his only son, Prince Edward.

Nicole Keating as Kathryn Howard There’s also ample ganging up. Anna of Cleves gets it the worst, bearing the reputation of being ugly and foul smelling. Her marriage with the King lasted a brief six months, which in the judgmental eyes of the other ladies, makes her inferior.

The play lacks any sort of cohesive plot. Instead, it plays as a series of monologues, musical numbers and sketches. It’s effective for about an hour. But by the end, Six Dead Queens runs out of any new ground to cover.

The actresses all deliver outstanding performances. Through vocal inflection, mannerisms and personality ticks, the women bring to life six unique individuals with completely separate personalities. In addition, the roles call for a sweeping spectrum of dispositions from slaphappy to somber. The performers are able to make the switch effortlessly.

Six Dead Queens is an entertaining intersection of academia and vaudeville. At times uproariously funny, at times remarkably sad, the piece successfully explores how competitiveness can make women their own worst enemies, how comfort can make them their own saviors and how men can be pigs.

 
Rating: ★★★
 
Amy Gorelow as Catherine of Aragon Brianna Sloane as Jane Seymour Dani Bryant as Anne Boleyn Denita Linnertz as Catherine Parr Nicole Keating as Kathryn Howard

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REVIEW: Lower Debt (Livewire Chicago Theatre)

Down in the dumps..

Lower Debt_photo by Sebastian Aguirre_7

Livewire Chicago presents:

Lower Debt

 

written by Joshua Aaron Weinstein
directed by
Rebekah Scallet
at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave.
through April 4th
(more info)

by Keith Ecker 

As has been pointed out by many smarter than me, it is worse to be the recipient of apathy than the target of hatred. That said, I don’t hate LiveWire Chicago Theatre’s  world premier production of Lower Debt. No, instead I just couldn’t care less about it, Lower Debt_photo by Sebastian Aguirre_5and it appeared that neither did anyone in the play. And this is supposed to be an “Everyman” tale?

The play’s got a solid synopsis. I’ll give it that. It’s set in the beginning of the 21st century, resembling a time that is as economically uncertain as present day but personal suffering is considerably worse, where a house is a tent tucked away in an abandoned building. CW (Brian P. Cicirello) is a copywriter at an ad firm. As we learn through video flashbacks, CW is laid off and left to simultaneously sell a screenplay and beg for change on the street, which we see in a scene where CW rambles to himself about pennies and dimes. The clip is so pregnant with self-importance I found myself rolling my eyes at the screen.

Eventually CW appears on stage in the tent town that nomadic bums Claude (Malcolm Callan), his wife Val (Melissa diLeonardo) and her sister Wendell (Annie Rix) have established. Claude is a bossy, hot-headed man who is protective of his property. He’s not hesitant to hit or push CW, which he does frequently. Meanwhile, Wendell takes a liking to CW, a feeling that is reciprocated. We know this because CW tells Wendell in hushed whispers that she doesn’t have to stay in Claude’s compound. It is a cliché love.

The tent town is also inhabited by a pill-pushing self-described pharmacist named Ames (Tamara Anderson), a kind-hearted cab driver named Rash (Josh Johnson), his dying lover Leah (Miriam Reuter) and a bum (Noah Lepawsky) whose periodic slips into existential ponderings are about as deep as Jack Handy’s “Deep Thoughts”.

Nothing much really happens throughout the play. A lot of people look angry at one another and walk from tent to tent. Alcohol is drunk. People occasionally leave the compound and then come back. Near the end of the play, there’s a twist, one that will jerk you awake because it involves a gun. But don’t get too excited. It’s laughably convoluted.

There’s little to no characterization. We as the audience don’t get to know any of these people. When some die, we just kind of shrug it off. Sure, there’s plenty of exposition about what life used to be like and who we all used to be before things went to hell. But it’s all talk and no action.

Lower Debt_photo by Sebastian Aguirre_2 Lower Debt_LiveWire_1
Lower Debt_photo by Sebastian Aguirre_6 Lower Debt_photo by Sebastian Aguirre_3

Speaking of talk, the dialogue in Lower Debt is atrocious. It plays like a transcribed conversation between high school stoners. The playwright, Joshua Aaron Weinstein (aka LiveWire’s Executive Director), obviously wants to tackle some big-picture concepts, but needs to learn to do it with more finesse. You can discuss life, death, society and materialism in a play, but you have to find some way to interweave it into interesting characters and plot. Otherwise it just sits there for everyone to stare at like a pet stain.

With no characterization and clunky speech, it is difficult to place much blame on the actors for their lackluster performances. They aren’t bad – just flat. Glenn Proud stands out the most as Claude’s cop brother, Damon, probably because he’s one of the only characters who doesn’t talk like a freshman philosophy major.

The use of video, which is completely dropped in the second half of the play, serves little purpose. The clips provide flashback about CW, but a clever director could just as easily stage these scenes with much greater effect. Also, the audio on the video is too low. Though sitting in the front row, I still had a very difficult time hearing. Hopefully this is just a technical sound issue with an easy fix.

Lower Debt is meant to be a commentary on contemporary times, exploring themes of community, ownership, loss and hope. But without interesting characters or a solid story to ground these lofty topics, the picture gets fuzzy and the audience’s attention spans and patience are tested.

 

Rating:

 

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