Review: Roadkill Confidential (Dog and Pony Theatre)

  
  

Video work adds little to self-indulgent, tedious concoction

  
  

L to R: Melanie (Heather Townsend) stumbles into Trevor's (Lucy Carapetyan) studio in the woods in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere production of Roadkill Confidential May 4-June 4 at The Building Stage. Photo by Timmy Samuel.

   
Dog and Pony Theatre Company presents
   
Roadkill Confidential
   
Written by Sheila Callaghan
Directed by Devon DeMayo
at The Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter (map)
through June 4  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

Dog and Pony’s Roadkill Confidential just might be the weirdest amalgamation of pretentious meaninglessness we’ve encountered on a stage. Ever. Despite what the various program notes would have you believe, playwright Sheila Callaghan’s work is neither bold nor invigorating. It is simply a tedious barrage of grainy, often visually indecipherable video footage looming over a messy and ultimately pointless pastiche of verbal non-sequiturs and bizarre, modern dance-like interludes that seem to have no connection with the rest of the production.

FBI Man (Sorin Brouwers) and Trevor (Lucy Carapetyan) perform the "We Sense Each Other Dance" in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere production of Roadkill Confidential by Sheila Callaghan. Photo Timmy Samuel In its sporadic moments of quasi-lucidity, Roadkill Confidential seems to be attempting some sort of satircal commentary on the everyday violence that consumes the world at large and/or humankind’s increasingly numb reaction to said violence. But the production comes across more confused than satirical. The video footage isn’t the only element of the production that’s mostly unintelligible. Roadkill Confidential also lacks a coherent narrative. Finally, director Devon De Mayo seems unconcerned with connecting the audience on any level whatsoever. The drama lurches along from one outlandish scene to the next without offering a single moment of emotional truth for the audience to latch on to.

Obviously, a traditional narrative and conventionally empathetic characters aren’t necessary for a play to work. From Ionesco to Beckett to Brecht and beyond, theater of the absurd and alienation can resonate with formidable power. But Callaghan’s absurdity seems to stand for nothing beyond its own self-indulgence.

The story, such as it is, centers on Trevor (Lucy Carapetyan), a churlish artist who specializes in creating sculptures made from roadkill. As charactere go, Trevor is two-dimensional, running the emotional gamut from A to B, or rather, from bitchy to bitchier. She is prone, as are the others on stage, to sudden outbreaks of stylized movement – rhythmic gyrations portrayed with an angst-ridden, dead seriousness but that read more like a parody of modern dance.

Trevor is being tracked by a one-eyed fellow known only as FBI Man (Sorin Brouwers), who believes the artist may be using her sculptures as weapons of germ-warfare. In between FBI Man’s rambling ruminations on high-tech surveillance gadgets and his own unflagging patriotism, Callaghan introduces Trevor’s tweedy partner William (Dan Smith), her seemingly brain-damaged stepson Randy (Andrew Goetten), and the fractured family’s uber-perky, socially clueless neighbor Melanie (Heather Townsend).

     
FBI Man (Sorin Brouwers) pauses dinner between Randy (Andrew Goetten), Melanie (Heather Townsend), and Trevor (Lucy Carapetyan) to share surveillance equipment in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere production of "Roadkill Confidential" by Sheila Callaghan. Photo Timmy Samuel Trevor (Lucy Carapetyan on screen) interrupts FBI Man's (Sorin Brouwers) surveillance in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere production of "Roadkill Confidential" by Sheila Callaghan. Photo Timmy Samuel

Among the five of them, there’s not a note of authenticity or a single moment that generates anything akin to empathy. What drives Trevor’s surly fascination with dead animals is anybody’s guess. As is the genesis of Randy’s bizarre obsession with cutlery. Combine the disconnected interludes of surreal, Isadora Duncan-on-absinthe undulations with the dearth of relatable humanity with video footage so muddy it looks like abstract art and you’ve got a show offers audiences very little incentive to stay interested.

Although to be sure, there is one video segment that clearly captures something recognizable, and recognizably part of the story: It is footage of a dog chained to a wall and left to starve as part of a gallery exhibit. It’s safe to assume no animals were actually harmed in the creation of Roadkill Confidential. Even so, the images of the purportedly starving mutt seem utterly gratuitous in their cruelty, an ugly, manipulative attempt by the playwright to be shocking. Equally ugly: A scene wherein Trevor, hands dripping with blood, wields a knife over a squirming, barely living squirrel (or something) and tells the struggling creature that she’s about to inflict pain that’ll hurt plike a “motherfucker.” Call me overly sensitive, but I see nothing worthwhile about watching small animals tortured to death, even when it’s only pretend.

As for Trevor’s final art project, it’s so beyond the pale as to beggar description. But just when you think Roadkill Confidential couldn’t get anymore pointlessly strange or manipulative in its attempts to be edgy and innovative, Callaghan introduces a musical number involving another dying creature Trevor has drafted into her artwork.

Successful plays don’t need likeable characters or traditional plots. It is quite possible to fuse traditional dramatic action with dance and video and come up with a compelling multi-disciplinary artistic hybrid. But Roadkill Confidential, in its strenuous attempts to be push the envelope of edginess and provocation, only succeeds in being tedious. It’s not innovative so much as it is inane. And in the end, uninteresting.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

L to R: Randy (Andrew Goetten), Trevor (Lucy Carapetyan on table) and William (Dan Smith) flashback to fame time in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere production of "Roadkill Confidential" by Sheila Callaghan. Photo: Timmy Samuel

Roadkill Confidential continues through June 4, with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for students and seniors. All previews plus Thursday and Sunday performances are pay-what-you-can. For tickets, call The Building Stage box office at 312-491-1369 or visit www.dogandponychicago.org.     (All photos by Timmy Samuel)

     

     
     

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REVIEW: The Twins Would Like to Say (Dog & Pony Theatre)

The curious case of Jennifer and June

 

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Dog & Pony Theatre presents:
 
The Twins Would Like to Say
 
Written and directed by Devon de Mayo and Seth Bockley
Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
through April 25th (more info)

reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

Note: This review was originally published on March 1 on Chicago Examiner.com

Just like the titular twins, you can’t escape mirror images in The Twins Would Like to Say. With Dog & Pony’s innovative examination of the curious case of June and Jennifer Gibbons, ever-shifting halls of mirrors offer both literal reflections of the twins’ lives and a metaphor for them.

twins-and-dadWritten and directed by Devon de Mayo and Seth Bockley, the staging for the Steppenwolf Theatre’s Garage Rep series was inspired by the Gibbons twins, born in 1963. As children, the pair made a pact to do everything in absolute unison, and to speak with no one but each other. Extraordinarily, they succeeded for 20 years, all but entirely silent outside the confines of their bedroom, despite the frustrated efforts of their parents and a cadre of psychiatrists who remained utterly stumped. When separated, the twins became catatonic.

Their lives are whitewashed a bit here – June and Jennifer’s lengthy criminal records, tragic incarceration and Jennifer’s early death are glossed over in a dreamscape of stylized movement. Yet from the lookalike parrot puppets that open the show to the two simultaneously played sorrowful scenes that end it, The Twins Would Like to Say is cryptic, playful and innovative.  

Bockley’s deft at intermingling sadness, beauty and sound (if you saw Boneyard Prayer, you don’t need us to tell you that). de Mayo’s ability to configure a story into non-linear, non-traditional formats received a well-deserved and high-powered spotlight  with Dog and Pony’s The Vivian Girls, which she devised and directed. Together, the pair constitutes a dream team of unexpected storytelling.

The Twins Would LIke to Say is theater as a tumble down the rabbit hole and into an ever-shifting funhouse maze where reality is warped and the line separating fantasy from reality is fluid. By using a promenade staging, Bockley and de Mayo ensure the audience is an active part of the story –  Rather than sit back and watch as they might with traditional stagings, ticket holders have to participate, moving from room to room as the scenes progress.

The audience’s entrée through the lookingglass is Mr. Nobody (Nick Leininger, a winning mix of the sinister and the sympathetic ), who ushers the audience behind a curtain with the flourish of a side-show huckster keen to have the audience to learn about some strange unknown world rather than just gawk at it.

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The first visual we get of June (Paige Collins) and Jennifer (Ashleigh LaThrop) is both spooky and enthralling. Standing stock still at the dead end of a long hall, the girls stare out with dead eyes, an adolescent vision of those twins from the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining.” 

The promenade structure isn’t without drawbacks. Among them: You’d have to see the piece at least twice to take in it all in. See it only once, and you’re forced to choose between scenes. Eavesdrop on the twins’ psychologist (Kasey Foster) trying to make sense of their behavior, and you become keenly aware that you’re missing what’s going on elsewhere, as dialogue floats in from some unseen periphery. No matter how deft the performances or compelling the action, you’re often left wondering if you’ve made the right choice – and if something more interesting is going on just around the corner.

That shortcoming is especially evident in the final scene, when the audience is split in half and divided by an opaque black curtain. Too say that missing half of the piece’s conclusion is immensely frustrating is an understatement.

That aside, the performances in The Twins Would Like to Say are marvelous, cryptic, playful depictions of people living in a world that’s half stylized fantasy and half brutal reality.

Collins and Ashleigh are wonderful, giggling and whispering in their room like teenage girls the world over up; silent, sullen and above all fearful whenever they’re forced to contend with the outside world. As their taunting, eerie classmates Kathryn Hribar and Teeny Lamothe are cruel and typical teens, shrill voices and nasal giggles evoking a thousand mean girls nightmares. (In real life, Jennifer and June were bullied so badly, their school allowed them to leave 5 minutes early, so as to get a head start on the kids who wanted to beat them up.)

As the twins mother Gloria, Millie Langford is the kind, patient, enabling opposite of the twins father Aubrey (Brandon Boler), whose tough love cruelty results in a cacophony of torment when the twins are forcibly separated.

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To depict the intricate fantasies that June and Jennifer spun by filling journals full of elaborate fictions, de Mayo and Bockley stage plays-within-the-play, bringing the pulp fiction storylines and outrageous sexuality of  such dubious works as  “The Pepsi Cola Addict” and “Discomania” (Dan Stermer’s disco choreographer is absolutely delicious). Andrea Everman’s shadow puppets also make the twins’ stories pop with vibrance. All seen in silhouette, a snarling dog, a dying boy and a bereaved father takes on emotional resonance rich in childlike poignance.

The Gibbons lives are by no means completely rendered here, but that hardly matters. What we do get in the 60-minute production is a chance to enter an alternate universe of intricate storytelling.

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

The Twins Would Like to Say  runs through April 25 in the Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted.  Tickets are $20, $12 students and pay-what-you-can Wednesdays. A three-play pass to the Garage Rep series also including XIII Pocket’s Adore (our review ★★½) and Pavement Group’s punkplay (our review ★★★) is $45. For a performance schedule and ticket information, click here or go to http://www.steppenwolf.org.

 

 

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2008 After Dark Awards Announced!

Gay Chicago Magazine has just announced this year’s After Dark AwardsBelow is an abbreviated list.  For the complete list, as well as production photos, go to Venus Zarris’s website: Chicago State Review

 

2008 After Dark Awards.  For more information go to ChicagoStageReviews.com

Best Production

Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

The Mark of Zorro (Lifeline Theatre)

Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)

 

Outstanding New Work

Sarah Ruhl – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Anna CariniSweet Confinement (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Tracy LettsSuperior Donuts (Steppenwolf Theatre)

 

Outstanding Adaptation

Shishir KurupMerchant on Venice (Silk Road Project)

Devon de Mayo and Ensemble – As Told By The Vivian Girls (Dog & Pony Theatre)

 

Outstanding Musical

Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)

 

Outstanding Direction

David Cromer – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

John MossmanJuno and the Paycock (Artistic Home)

Anna Bahow – Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Peter Robel – Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)

 

Outstanding Direction of a Musical

Fred Anzevino – “Cabaret” and Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)

 

Outstanding Musical Direction

Joshua Stephen Kartes – Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)

 

Outstanding Performance in a Play

Jennifer Grace – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

Mark Ulrich – Juno and the Paycock  (Artistic Home)

Nicole Wiesner – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Keland Scher – Much Ado About Nothing  (First Folio Theatre)

Madeline Long – Soldiers: The Desert Stand (LiveWire Chicago Theatre)

Sadieh Rafai – Speech and Debate (American Theatre Company)

Jeremy Sher – Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)

Annabel Armour – Fiction  (Remy Bumppo)

Jenn Remke – Resort 76  (Infamous Commonwealth)

Andy Hager – Red Light Winter (Thunder and Lightning Ensemble)

Polly Noonan – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts  (Goodman Theatre)

Nick Vatterott – Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy  (Annoyance Theatre)

Adam Kander – The Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)

 

Outstanding Performance in a Musical or Review

E. Faye Butler – Ain’t Misbehavin’   (Goodman Theatre)

Kat McDonnell – Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)

Summer Smart – Sweet Charity  (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Bethany Thomas – Nine  (Porchlight Music Theatre)

 

Outstanding Ensemble

Emma  (Trapdoor Theatre)

As Told by the Vivian Girls  (Dog & Pony Theatre)

Juno and the Paycock  (The Artistic Home)

Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Superior Donuts  (Steppenwolf Theatre)

 

For the complete listing of all 2008 After Dark Awards, including full descriptions and great pictures, go to my friend Venus Zarris’s theatre blog: www.chicagostagereview.com.   Go Venus!!