REVIEW: The New Adventures of Popeye (Factory Theater)

  
  

Strong the to finish, ‘cause they eat their spinach!

   

      
Factory Theater presents
   
The New Adventures of Popeye
   
Directed by Eric Roach
at
Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston (map)
through Dec 17   |  tickets: $8   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The Factory Theater has a late-night theater offering, The New Adventures of Popeye – but one wonders whether it shouldn’t be pared down and placed just before Jenny & Jenni in the way that cartoon shorts used to warm up the audience in movie theaters before the feature. Directed by Eric Roach, with John Moran (Popeye), Sarah Rose Graber (Olive Oyl) and Dave Skvarla (Bluto), the team absolutely nail the Popeye - Factory Theatercartoon mannerisms, voices and movement of their characters. Their goal is to produce Popeye for adults, which in some ways is rather redundant, since the original cartoons always had Popeye mumbling witty asides that the adults could get a chuckle over, while the kids reveled in the cartoon’s hyperbolic physical comedy and routine sparring between Popeye and Bluto over Olive.

Eric Roach and cast (which include Lina Bunte and Colin Milroy) also try to update Popeye with contemporary themes and concerns. For openers, Popeye and Bluto compete in selling their apples at a farmers market. Popeye’s apples are organically grown while Bluto’s reek of harmful chemicals. But the premise comes off as preachy more than funny; even now it’s difficult to see two iconically stereotypical seamen like Popeye and Bluto getting into farming, organic or otherwise.

The other sketches prove to be much funnier: couples-counseling for Popeye and Olive Oyl, the travails of air flight for all three. I wonder if there’s still time to put in material about ex-ray screening and full-body pat downs. Whatever the case, the production comes off much cleaner when returning to the original comic structure of the cartoon, which has always been about two guys fighting over a gal—a skinny, rubbery, mewling kind of gal. Pleasant and pure nostalgia holds the audience, as well as marvel over the ease with which the cast physically and bracingly evokes the cartoon’s clownish effects.

     
  
Rating: ★★½
  

 

Cast

John Moran is Popeye
Sarah Rose Graber* is Olive Oyl
David Skvarla is Bluto
Lina Bunte is Female Koken
Colin Milroy* is Male Koken

Production

Directed by Eric Roach*
Geoff Coates is the Fight Director
Amy C Gilman is the Props Designer
Jason Weinberg is the Stage Manager

   
  

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REVIEW: Of Mice and Men (Oak Park Festival Theatre)

Familiar story has power under the stars

 Oak Pak Festival Theatre's "Of Mice and Men"

   
Oak Park Festival Theatre presents
  
Of Mice and Men
 
By John Steinbeck
Directed by
Belinda Bremner
Austin Gardens Park, 157 N. Forest Ave., Oak Park (map)
Through July 10  | 
Tickets: $10-$25; chair rental: $2 |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

One trouble with shows based on works almost everybody had to read in high school is they tend to lack suspense. That said, Oak Park Festival Theatre’s Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck evokes all of the power of the original tragic novelette. Even though you know what’s coming at every step, Belinda Bremner’s production provides plenty of impact.

The timeless themes of loneliness and the solace of forged connections and shared dreams come to life under the stars in Austin Gardens Park, Oak Park Festival Theatre’s outdoor venue. Steinbeck wrote Of Mice and Men as a "play-novelette," designed theatrically, so it makes a seamless transition to the stage. (A minor quibble: I disagree with Bremner’s decision to combine the three acts into two, but I suppose that with the show at nearly 2½ hours, she didn’t want to add the extra intermission.)

Oak Pak Festival Theatre's "Of Mice and Men" You can bring or rent lawn chairs if you like, or sit in the bleachers, though one lady in front of me really knew how to do outdoor theater right — she came equipped with a blanket to spread on the lawn, a pillow to lounge on, votive candles, mosquito sticks, bug spray and a basket of snacks and drinks. (If you bring nothing else, I highly recommend bug spray.) Some scenes take place on the stage and others on the ground at stage left, so whatever you sit on, situate yourself toward "house" right for the best views.

Just in case you went to school in some other country, Of Mice and Men follows George Milton and Lenny Small, two itinerant, California farm workers during the Great Depression. They have been traveling together for years, though George is smart and ambitious and Lenny is mentally impaired — a small child in a strong man’s body. The two aspire one day to have their own place, where they can live off the fat of the land. Lenny never tires of hearing George recount what will happen when they achieve this goal.

George often vents his frustration with Lenny, who gets the pair into odd scrapes and some serious trouble through his love of touching soft things and his lack of understanding, but he never considers abandoning his companion. Lenny is completely confident in George — though he offers to go off and live in a cave, he trusts George won’t take him up on it. Kevin Theis gives George just the right edginess and protectiveness, while David Skvarla does a stupendous job as Lenny, endlessly befuddled and attractively childlike, as the show builds to its gut-wrenching conclusion.

When the two arrive on a new ranch, they meet Candy, a broken-down old hand whose own companion, a beloved, elderly dog, becomes a matter of contention in the bunkhouse. Candy offers George and Lenny a means of bringing their far-off hopes to reality. Veteran Chicago actor William J. Norris’ compelling performance gives the production real depth.

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Meanwhile, Curley (a vigorous Adam Meredith), the pugnacious son of the ranch boss, picks on Lenny just to make up for his own inadequacies; and another lonely ranch hand, Crooks (a sensitive portrayal by Emanueal Buckley), kept at arm’s length because he’s black, is also inclined to take out his resentment on Lenny but ultimately relents.

Curley’s new wife, a nameless and ill-omened young woman who regrets the recent marriage that has done nothing to cure her loneliness, tries to chat up the men just to have something to do, but they misinterpret her friendly overtures. Ricky Lurie’s period clothes for the men look just fine, but Curley’s wife ought to be dressed more provocatively. Her plain-jane overalls and braids, combined with Skyler Schrempp’s rather earnest portrayal, make it difficult to imagine how the men can see her as a tramp.

Ron Butts, Stanton Davis, Ben Carr and Walter Briggs ably fill out the cast.

Unseen live musicians provide a little incidental music, but they seem under-utilized. A recording of Woody Guthrie classics played before the show and at intermission seemed fitting at first, but became tiresome by its third iteration. More live music could make this very good production into a great one.

       
      
Rating:★★★½
   
   

Note: Free parking available in the 19th Century Club lot on North Forest Avenue.

Extra Credit:

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Review – "Portrait of Dorian Gray" at Lifeline Theatre

Reviewed by Jackie Ingram

Lifeline Theatre has proven once again, “bigger is not always better.” Their small theatre has truly captured the essence of Oscar Wilde’s play with creativity, wonderful acting, and a skillfully used two-tier set that is amazing. Through the help of Basil Hailworth, Lord Henry Wotton, Alan Campbell, and the beautiful, Sibyl Vane, the play begins with all sharing their amorous feelings for the handsomely young Dorian Gray, convincingly played by Nick Vidal.

Dorian 187 LR Following the introductions, we see Basil Hailworth presenting the finished picture to Dorian who, after viewing it, falls in love with his own image. Dorian vows to sell his soul for eternal youth if only his picture would not age himself. The role of Dorian Gray might have been a daunting task for Nick Vidal and very one-dimensional, but under the great direction of Kevin Theis, you see the evil that is beginning to spew and creep out of Dorian’s face and behavior.

The ten-cast ensemble is excellent. By taking chances, the ensemble shares and entertains us with great fortitude. Don Bender, as the elder Basil, is strong and yet – when Dorian is present – converts into the shy, rambling and insecure young Basil, played by Aaron Snook. The work of these two agile performers is truly amazing. Unlike Basil, the young Lord Henry, played by Paul S. Holmquist, manipulates his way into Dorian’s life by teasing him with his biting sense of humor. The young Lord Henry is self-assured, funny, and not ashamed to voice his opinion. As the years pass, the influence of Dorian Gray seeps in, and the elder Lord Henry, played by Sean Sinitski, becomes a darker, more demure, and his biting sense of humor seems to fade. One must not forget the Sibyl Vane played by the beautiful Melissa Nedell: she commands the stage and charms our hearts with the love she holds for Dorian Gray. We see Kyle A. Gibson and John Ferrick as the younger and elder Alan Campbell. Mr. Campbell’s love never changes and he never stops wishing that one day Dorian would feel the same. We find out later that there is nothing Alan will not do for Dorian Gray. Adam Breske and David Skvaria as James Vane, younger and elder brother of Sibyl Vane, are equally scary and fantastic to watch. Whenever on stage, you can feel their anger. The entire cast and their secondary roles are truly brilliant, working as a fine-tuned machine.

Dorian Gray Twists and turns are abundant in Robert Kauzlaric’s adaptation of Portrait of Dorian Gray – and they will keep you focused on the action throughout.  Indeed, one scene even scared me! (and I don’t scare easy – though my grandkids might say otherwise!). Unfortunately I am not going to let you know what this scene is – you’ll have to see it for yourself!

But there is a haunting line in the show that I will share, “Love is truly mankind’s greatest tragedy.” What do you think? Go to the show and find out.

As a side note – I had the pleasure of speaking to a retired woman in the audience named Ms. Phyllis Trowbridge, who was friendly yet quirky, much like the gentrifying Rogers Park neighborhood surrounding the theatre.  Phyllis relayed to me that she had gone to a number of shows at Lifeline and, to quote her, “ I have not seen any bad shows here.”  I certainly must agree with Phyllis, and encourage all to support this theatrical treasure.

If you enjoy reading the works of Oscar Wilde (and even if you don’t) then this is the play for you. The Picture of Dorian Gray, showing at the Lifeline Theatre, runs through November 2nd.

Rating: ««««

 

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