Review: Circle Mirror Transformation (Victory Gardens)

 
 

Changing others for good, sometimes forever

  
  

Steve Key, Joseph D. Lauck, Rae Gray, Lori Myers, and Carmen Roman in a scene from Victory Garden's 'Circle Mirror Transformation'.

  
Victory Gardens Theater presents
   
Circle Mirror Transformation
  
Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Dexter Bullard
Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
through April 17  |  tickets: $35-$50  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Slow and steady wins the race, so they say. In less than two hours, Annie Baker’s justly praised drama marches to its own different drummer as it covers a fairly uneventful six weeks in the course of a community-theater adult class for “Creative Drama” in the small town of Shirley, Vermont. (Don’t worry—This gentle character drama has none of the cruelty of Waiting for Guffman.) Dexter Bullard’s local premiere explains why New York went a bit crazy over this minimalist masterwork, where less is so much more than more ever was.

Carmen Roman looks on as 2 of her students go through an acting exercise in Victory Garden's 'Circle Mirror Transformation'.“Creative” is the operative word, because the four students and one teacher aren’t ramping up to a real rehearsal of an actual play, let alone a finished production. Teacher Marty (Carmen Roman,as a mentor with miseries) leads the hopeful thespians in a series of touchy-feely theater games and emotive exercises. These build a lot more trust and self-esteem than they could ever nurture trained acting that could actually be used to earn a living. (They resemble the Viola Spolin-style Method-acting tricks spoofed in the song “Nothing” from A Chorus Line.)

But the fact that Marty puts technique far above content perfectly suits this still-waters-run-deep comedy. The “transformation” in the title refers to the barely perceptible ways in which people change each other for good and sometimes forever. Baker doesn’t bother to explain how or why they do it. Much is left unspoken but not unfelt, even when the action seems one protracted non sequitur.

Besides Roman’s conflicted instructor, we meet Lauren (a concentrated Rae Gray), a seemingly surly, very complicated 16-year-old who really does want to act and craves a chance to be someone other than a complicated teenager who really does want to act. She bonds with her opposite, 55-year-old James (Joseph D. Lauck, hiding far more than he shows, especially about his relationship with Marty): James has his own domestic backstory which he wants to escape from, not draw upon as the games require. Lori Myers energizes Theresa, the new girl in town, who finds herself drawn to now-available Schultz (Steve Key), an estranged husband who’s shy and a tad too sensitive even for this situation.

Lori Myers and Carmen Roman in 'Circle Mirror Transformation' at Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre in ChicagoThe games they “play” yield a series of “Truth or Consequences” moments of truth: In one devastating moment, they read each other’s darkest secrets: We can only guess whose they really are. What’s most amazing over the course of the play is the occasional “reenactments” in which one student plays another: From the depth and detail of the portrayals you realize just how much quality time they’ve spent together.

The fact that not much happens here is exactly the point – and for many theatergoers that, alas, may be exactly the problem. Nothing epic sparks the story. But Baker has created a theatrical complement to real life. Their assorted epiphanies, turning points and kinetic breakthroughs are few and far between, especially in a span as short as six weeks. Just because the life-changing stuff doesn’t happen often or as expected doesn’t mean that what’s left doesn’t deserve the respect of a dramatic depiction. Circle Mirror Transformation is very respect-full.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Steve Key, Joseph D. Lauck, Rae Gray, Lori Myers, and Carmen Roman in a scene from Victory Garden's 'Circle Mirror Transformation'.

Circle Mirror Transformation continues thru April 17th at Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with performance Tues-Saturday: 8pm, Saturday matinee: 4pm, Sunday matinee: 2pm, and Wednesday matinee at 2pm.  Tickets are $35-$50 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-871-3000.

  
  

Continue reading

REVIEW: The Big Meal (American Theater Company)

  
  

Finger Lickin’ Good!

  
  

Emily Leahy, Philip Earl Johnson, Lia D. Mortensen, Noah Jerome Schwartz in The Big Meal at American Theater Company.

   
American Theater Company presents
   
The Big Meal
        
Written by Dan LeFranc
Directed by
Dexter Bullard
at
American Theater, 1909 W. Byron (map)
through March 6  |  tickets: $20-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

By the time an average person is 50 years old, he will have consumed over 50,000 meals. Annual sit-down celebrations to drive-through-minivan-feasts, big and small life moments revolve around sharing food. American Theater Company presents the world premiere of The Big Meal.

Andrew Goetten, Lindsay Leopold in The Big Meal at American Theater Company.A server checks out her last table and goes home with him. Their casual hook-up leads to dating. The courtship heats up to love. The intense affection spirals into indifference. They break-up. A chance encounter leads to make-up sex. They get engaged then married. Their romance is a whirlwind… of minutes! The evolution of Nicki and Sam’s lives are illustrated by quick snippet scenes around meals. Initially, it’s just the couple. Later, it’s their parents and children. And not much later, it’s their children’s children. Fifty plus years of bite-size morsels make two lifetimes. The Big Meal is a hearty entrée of life with all the fixings.

Playwright Dan LeFranc penned a meaty story about family. With some prime choices casted, Director Dexter Bullard flame broils it to perfection. Eight actors, from kids to seniors, play multiple roles. Always at the table, Nicki and Sam are played by six actors at various life stages. They age, change and don’t change. It’s the reality of relationships over time. The brilliance of the sustenance is the subtle and distinct flavors. Seeing multiple generations interacting through the years is seeing the whole family tree through the forest. There are the small discoveries, like his dad was a racist so he tells off-color jokes. His mom drank, so he drinks. To bigger moments, she was ignored by her grandpa and her father so she has dysfunctional relationships with men including her son. LeFranc uses overlapping dialogue to create an organic experience. Bullard stages it with tables and chairs continually revolving. The volume and pace are chaotic life happenings. The level of activity halts abruptly for poignant moments to showcase a person’s ‘last supper.’ It’s the all-you-can-eat life banquet with heaping helpings of love and death.

     
Noah Jerome Schwartz and Emily Leahy in The Big Meal at American Theater Company. Lia D. Mortensen, Will Zahrn, Peggy Roeder, Philip Earl Johnson in The Big Meal at American Theater Company.

This talented cast provides a buffet of tasty moments. Collectively, they mesh family style. Individually, they seamlessly morph into someone else. A particularly entertaining transformation is Andrew Goetten playing four different boyfriends in a four minute span. Lindsay Leopold is hysterically neurotic as the youngest version of Nicki. The chemistry between Lia D. Mortensen and Philip Earl Johnson as the midlife couple is well-balanced angst and contentment. Will Zahrn embraces multiple personalities with flourish going from prick to party guy to curmudgeon. Peggy Roeder makes hilarious side comments and then ends the show in a powerful silent haunting visual. Noah Jerome Schwartz and Emily Leahy play several versions of precocious kids delightfully… because they aren’t yours.

The Big Meal is life ordered off the menu. Thought provoking! Knowing preservatives don’t keep anything good indefinitely, ask for the specials but get what you want out of life. And definitely look at the dessert menu. The Big Meal, reservations recommended!

   
  
Rating: ★★★½  
      
     

Peggy Roeder, Will Zahrn, Lia D. Mortensen, Philip Earl Johnson in The Big Meal at American Theater Company.

Lia D. Mortensen, Peggy Roeder, Emily Leahy in The Big Meal at American Theater Company. Lia Mortensen and Emily Leahy in The Big Meal at American Theater Company.

The Big Meal continues through March 6th, with performances Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm . Running Time: Seventy-five minutes with no intermission

  
  

REVIEW: Odradrek (House Theatre)

  
  

House Theatre finds its groove

  
  

Odradrek by Brett Neveu - House Theatre of Chicago - music Josh Schmidt - director Dexter Bullard

  
House Theatre of Chicago presents
  
Odradrek
 
Written by Brett Neveu
Music by
Josh Schmidt
Directed by
Dexter Bullard
at
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through March 5  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

reviewed by Barry Eitel

The House Theatre of Chicago isn’t known for their gloominess. They often dip into darker subjects, especially death (Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe, The Nutcracker our review ★★★½), sometimes drugs (All the Fame of Lofty Deedsreview ★★★), and, once, children killing each other with metaphorical handguns (Girls Vs. Boysreview). Their newest offering, Odradek, a riff on Kafka via Brett Neveu, is easily the bleakest story I’ve seen by the puckish group. The promotional material compares the play to Hitchcock, and in a semi-disclaimer, artistic director Nathan Allen warns that the “show is scary.” I firmly believe that the hardest emotion to evoke in an audience is not glee, or sadness, or despair, but fear. To be honest, Odradek never really scared me. And it’s not very Hitchcockian; it feels more like “Saw” meets Beverly Cleary.

Odradrek by Brett Neveu - music Josh Schmidt - director Dexter BullardThe play is beautifully realized by designers Collette Pollard and Lee Keenan. The play works best when seen as performance art, not a intellectual venture. Neveu and Dexter Bullard, two newcomers to the House, want this play to be both a tragically complex story and a macabre poem. They can’t nail down either. Neveu’s language is delightfully lyrical, but it doesn’t make for a coherent piece of drama. Realities, fantasy, and hallucination are blurred and the three characters’ motivations are convoluted. However, the show still takes the audience on a ride in true House style.

The play centers around a Boy (Joey Steakley), who comes from a broken, but not abusive, home. He lives with his Father (David Parkes), who enters into an ethically-questionable romance with the Boy’s Doctor (Carolyn Defrin). The Boy, on the other hand, enters into a relationship with a monster that lives under the stairs, Odradek. Slowly, the Boy slips down a path of confusion and self-mutilation.

The plot has a few holes, which I’ll wager are intentional. The Doctor is pretty clearly a primary care physician, and the Boy very clearly requires some facetime with a psychologist. The Boy’s wounds provided another puzzle, because it wasn’t clear if they were imagined or actual. As the play progresses, the grip on reality loosens and every aspect of the story comes into question.

The Boy’s affliction is linked to his parent’s divorce, but not much is explained. Neveu relies heavily on images, metaphors, and anecdotes for mood, but none of these provide stakes for the Boy. Colors are especially important—the Doctor asks the Boy what color his mother’s eyes are, while Odradek quizzes him about the hues of blood and sinew. But these tangents don’t explain why he misses his mom or why he chooses to hurt himself.

Even with the stylistic clashes, the cast handles the play well. Parkes’ performance is fascinating to watch in his House debut. He gives the Father a gritty, Chicago-style treatment that isn’t found in many House shows. Defrin, always a pleasure, plays against him decently, even though she’s more presentational. Steakley comes off zombiefied in a challenging role, and his age is very hard to pinpoint (I sort of figured he was around 25 but still living at home). He hits astride as his story unravels.

Infusing the company with new blood this season is a truly refreshing idea. In recent years, the House seemed to be stumbling at times. Odradek is a worthy venture and dives into territory that the company had successfully plunged into in the past. But it lacks heft. The play doesn’t reveal much about mental illness, divorce, or a connection between the two. Its value lies in how it strikes the ear, the eye, and the soul – not the mind.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

House Theatre of Chicago logo

Continue reading

Next Theatre announces their 30th-Anniversary Season

Next Theatre - War With Newts 

Scene from last season’s “The War With the Newts ★★★½

Next Theatre announces their

 

30th-Anniversary Season

 

Next Theatre Company announces their 30th  anniversary season, complete with three main stage plays receiving their Midwest premieres, along with their What’s Next Series focusing on new Chicago artists.  All productions, plus the What’s Next Series, are presented at Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes Street in Evanston.

 

Main Stage Shows

 

November 4 – December 5, 2010

 

  The Piano Teacher
   
  Written by Julia Cho
Directed by Lisa Portes
   
  Midwest Premiere
   
  When the sweet, cookie loving Mrs. K, the epitome of the caring grandmotherly piano teacher, reaches out to her old students, she discovers a chain of startling secrets that she can no longer keep hidden inside her piano bench. With breath-taking theatricality and stunning language, Julio Cho takes us on a journey of discovery that brings international responsibility into the sanctity of our family kitchen.
   

 

January 20 – February 20, 2011

 

  Madagascar
   
  Written by J.T. Rogers
Directed by Kimberly Senior
   
  Midwest Premiere
   
  Director Kimberly Senior and internationally recognized playwright J.T. Rogers, the pair who brought you The Overwhelming, team up again to offer audiences another gripping thriller. In the same hotel room overlooking the Spanish steps in Rome, three Americans across three different moments in time find themselves alone.  A sister, a mother and a family friend grapple with loss, regret, and the nature of truth. Using his trademark cunning insight and grippingly eloquent characters, J.T. Rogers weaves a haunting story about the mysterious disappearance of a loved one, and the unexpected consequences that bring a family closer together.
   

 

April 14 – May 8, 2010

 

  The Metal Children
   
  Written by Adam Rapp
Directed by Joanie Schultz
   
  Midwest Premiere
   
  What responsibility do artists have for the impact of their work? Provocative New York playwright and Pulitzer Prize finalist Adam Rapp offers a powerful portrait of small-town censorship and the American divide over family values in his newest play fresh from a sold-out Off-Broadway run, The Metal Children. A gifted New York writer attempts to defend his young adult novel to the same small American town hell bent on banning his work, causing an explosive encounter from which no one in the small Midwestern town will recover.
   

Tickets

All tickets for Main Stage shows are $20 – $40 with subscriber and student discounts available. Tickets may be purchased at nexttheatre.org or by calling 847-475-1875 x2.

 

After the fold (click on “Read more”):

  • 30th Anniversary Season new programming
  • “What’s Next Series” schedule
  • What’s Next” Lab
  • Panel Discussions

Next Theatre - Magical Exploding BoyDean Evans in last season’s “Magical Exploding Boy”  ★★★

  

     
     

Continue reading

Think Fast: Cheyenne Jackson, Red Orchid Theatre, Barbara Gaines, and Superior Donuts

logo Good news for Old Town’s A Red Orchid Theatre: tickets for their current production Mistakes Were Made (our review here), by Craig Wright, have been selling like hot cakes – so much so that they’ve added an extra Wednesday night performance for all of October.  Be sure to check it out before it closes on October 31st.  Mistakes Were Made stars Michael Shannon, and is directed by Dexter Bullard.   (h/t Chris Jones)


shakespeare

 

Check out the interview with Chicago Shakes artistic director (and founder) Barbara Gaines regarding her direction of the company’s current production, Richard III. Well worth the read.

 


superiordonuts The Daily Beast has posted a rave review of Tracy Letts’ Superior Donuts, which played last year to positive reviews at Steppenwolf. An excerpt:

Letts and his cast can breathe deeply today. While a far less ambitious play than August, with its three-story set and sprawling cast, Superior Donuts is no less successful for what it aims to be: a tender, funny, and often tragic valentine to Letts’ Chicago in a time of intense cultural change. Fans of August won’t find that play’s heavy, gut-wrenching revelations here, but Donuts was always intended to be a smaller, lighter effort, as delightful and sweet as a doughnut itself. The play, which Letts began writing even before August, earned positive reviews when it first opened in Chicago with the same cast in July 2008, and after a year of Letts’ tweaks and rewrites, it may be even better….

Read the entire review here.


Per Perez Hilton:

cheyenn Tina Fey’s brilliant comedy, 30 Rock, may be getting the one thing it’s severely lacking – a hot piece of eye candy!

Rumors are circulating that Broadway hottie, openly gay and successful actor Cheyenne Jackson, will allegedly be joining the cast in a semi or possibly a completely permanent capacity.

For those of you who don’t live and die by the goings on of the Great White Way, Cheyenne has been in productions like Xanadu and All Shook Up!

More here.

Review: A Red Orchid Theatre’s “Mistakes Were Made”

It was all my fault

 Mistakes Were Made2

A Red Orchid Theatre presents:

Mistakes Were Made
by Craig Wright
directed by Dexter Bullard
extended through October 31st (but tickets)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Craig Wright, Emmy-nominated writer of the hit HBO series Six Feet Under, has created in Mistakes Were Made an entertaining and intelligently witty play, even as Oscar Nominee Michael Shannon is alone on stage throughout most of the play; his time spent engaging in frantic phone conversations, as well as therapeutic talks with his close companion Denise, his fish.

Mistakes Were Made3 Felix Artiflex (Michael Shannon) is desperately trying to put together a new play starring only the best actors and directors. He is frantically making promises beyond his control; doing anything he can to make this project a reality. Felix is a desperate man after losing someone close to him (his daughter?). We do not actually know much about his personal life, but we can tell by the way he works that there is a void in his life and a happiness that he is searching for. Felix has made some grave mistakes in his life, but he believes this new world premiere play about the French Revolution is his chance at redemption and achievement. In his attempts to fulfill all of his desires, he loses everything once again, but finds a small sense of happiness when he faces his own humility.

The stage is Felix’s office, and looks like an old fashion producer’s office from back in the 1970’s. I was surprised when I noticed that this play was taking place in relatively the present day, but considering the lack of money that sometimes comes from working in theatre, some offices no doubt still look like that in 2009. Tom Burch has designed the office littered with drama books, scripts and paperwork. Pictures of actresses and actors, that one assumes Felix has worked with in the past, are hanging on the walls. Pushed away, almost hidden amongst the paperwork and business memorabilia, are a few scattered kid’s toys showing us that there is or was a child that would come around his office.

The make-up artist Nan Zabriskie does an extraordinary job. She makes Shannon looked aged, not as an old man aged by years but by pressure and stress. Shannon’s cheeks look sucked-in, making it appear as if his skin hangs just a bit against his bone structure and his eyes look stressed like a man who hasn’t been able to relax for years.

Mistakes Were Made5 This is a piece that the audience can relate to; the fight to get others to share in your vision and the struggle to escape hardships and find better, more respectable days in the future. Craig Wright’s writing is wonderfully done, including the emotional complexity involved when working while your personal life sits in the back of your mind. Wright has written a variety of characters that Felix interacts with over the telephone creating gripping twists in the plot line, as well as a nice interjection of intelligent humor. Having some knowledge of theatre and classic plays does increase the impact of some of his jokes: since Felix is a theatre producer, the jokes are industry friendly.

The performance by Shannon lives up to the hype, as he portrays the driven attitude of a man nearing the end of his career, reaching for something that he can achieve and hold on to. I felt as if I had an idea of what had happened to Felix and how his life had reached this point. Shannon gave Felix depth and a personal past through his display of tense emotions. We have a sense that he is missing the love and respect of someone in particular without it having to be specifically said. The constant busy-ness of jumping from conversation to conversation is made light and humorous with the pleasant interruptions by the secretary, Esther, played by Mierka Girten.

Even with this gripping performance, the play was too long for a basically one man act. While watching one of the best solo performances I have seen the man next to me feel asleep, and I began to get a serious leg cramp. I recommend this show because it is a rare opportunity to see an outstanding actor perform an intelligently written piece just ten feet away from you. It is an amazing experience to watch Michael Shannon capture the whole essence of Felix’s character, although an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission is just a little too long to watch even this man.

Rating: «««

Mistakes Were Made is playing at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 North Wells St., Chicago, Thursdays – Sundays and has now been extended through October 31.

Continue reading

Northlight Theatre announces 2008/09 season

 

Northlight  Theatre 2008/09 Season

 

Doctor Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher

Based on the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson

Directed by Jessica Thebus

What happened the night that Henry Jekyll died? Against the backdrop of Victorian London, the respected doctor has begun to display alarmingly erratic behavior toward his friends.  At the wsame time, a mysterious figure haunts the city’s streets under the cloak of the London fog.  This fiendishly clever and theatrically innovative new adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale is a smart, psychological thriller that delights in revealing the many faces of Edward Hyde.

September 17 – October 26, 2008

 

 

Grey Gardens

Book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel, lyrics by Michael Korie

Directed by BJ Jones

Musical direction by Doug Peck

Rub elbows with Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter “Little Edie,” – Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ most scandalous relatives!  Once the highest of high society, the two have become East Hampton’s most notorious recluses, living in a dilapidated 28-room mansion with 51 cats for company.  Set in two eras – 1941 when the celebrated estate was the picture of wealth and sophistication, and 1973 after it had been reduced to squalor – Grey Gardens is a brilliant and heartbreaking look at two indomitable women.

November 12 – December 21, 2008

 

 

Po Boy Tango

By Kenneth Lin

Translated by Martin Crimp

Directed by Chay Yew

A celebration of the human spirit and the joy of cooking, Po Boy Tango tells the story of Richie Po, a Chinese immigrant who turns to his estranged friend Gloria to help him recreate his mother’s “Great Banquet.”  Despite the challenges of shark fin soup, duck po boy sandwiches and underlying cultural tensions, Richie and Gloria find common ground through their shared humor and the blending of traditional Taiwanese cuisine and African American “Soul Food.”  Helped by lessons from Po Moma’s television cooking show, the two discover a deeper understanding of food, culture and the nature of friendship.

January 7   February 15, 2009

 

 

Mauritius

By Theresa Rebeck

Directed by Dexter Bullard

The stakes are high when half-sisters inherit a book of rare stamps that may include the “crown jewel” of the stamp-collection world.  The battle for possession takes a dangerous turn when three rival collectors enter the sisters’ world, willing to go to any lengths to stake their claim on the find.  Combining the best aspects of Hitchcock, Chandler and Mamet, “Mauritius” is a gripping blend of sharp comedy and heart-pounding drama that simmers with constant surprise.

February 25 – April 5, 2009

 

 

The Lieutenant of Inishmore

By Martin McDonagh

Directed by BJ Jones

“Wee Thomas” the cat has been killed.  What’s worse, he was the beloved pet of Padraic – a ruthless Irish hitman who considers the IRA “too soft.”  As the folks back home fight over who has to break the bad news, the violence escalates – recalling Shakespeare and Quentin Tarantino at their bloody best.  A few murders, several dismemberments and a smattering of cow mutilations later, all is finally right with the world again.  Or is it?  In this wickedly funny black comedy from the author of “The Cripple of Inishmaan”, “A Skull in Connemara” and the recent film “In Bruges”, McDonagh considers the implications of outrageous reactions to small misunderstandings.

April 29   June 7, 2009

 

For more information, call 847-673-6300, or go to www.northlight.org