Review: Performing Tonight! Liza Minnelli’s Daughter (Neo-Futurists)

     
     

Art, Life, Reality, Blurred Lines, and Who’s Daddy?

     
     

Joseph Schupbach, Mary Fons and Donnell Williams in 'Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli's Daughter" at Neo-Futurists

  
The Neo-Futurists present
     
  
Performing Tonight:
   
    Liza Minnelli’s Daughter
  
  
Written by Mary Fons
Directed by Sonja Moser
at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland (map)
through June 4  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The liner notes for Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli’s Daughter claim that this show is much more than an impression, dance numbers, and a revue. Playwright Mary Fons claims that this is a reckoning. I am not sure for whom the reckoning tolls. Ms. Fons is a startling likeness of Liza Minnelli circa "Cabaret". The show opens with her giving a history of her love for lace-up platform ballet slippers. From there Fons spins a dizzying tale of adoration that turns into an identity crisis whereupon she rejects all that has hurt her and reinvents herself as Mary Minnelli.

Mary Fons as Liza Minnelli's daughter Mary, from Neo-Futurists' "Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli's Daughter".Mary Minnelli wants to make us believe a fable from the cult of celebrity. She claims to be a Garland as in Judy who came from crazy Mama Gumm. There is plenty of crazy to go around as the world of Mary Minnelli is revealed. Liza Minnelli’s Daughter has a wonderful Greek Chorus holding up the mirror of truth and pain throughout the performance. Donnell Williams and Joseph Schupbach are the Fosse dancers, the wardrobe masters, the devil’s advocates holding the glaring spotlight, and the friends who talk Mary Minnelli off of the ledge.

The choreography is really quite good. Ms. Fons has the lithe synchronized moves, jazz hands, and long legs like Minnelli. Donnell Williams fits the physicality of a Fosse dancer and does a smashup Judy Garland with only a little black dress as the drag. The comedy is written with a dark and sardonic edge. Mary Minnelli sings a tribute to Liza who sang a tribute to her mother Judy Garland. Donnell brings out a tiny child’s piano to accompany the recorded soundtrack. The song is a replay of Liza singing "Mammy" to Judy Garland. It should be revealed that Donnell is Black and gamely plays along until the song ends. He utters one line-"Mammy"-accompanied by a look that says ‘seriously girlfriend…Mammy?’ I found it hysterical and indicative of the wonderful chemistry of this cast.

Joseph Schupbach plays the other half of Team Mary Minnelli. He is quite a wonderful dancer and has a brilliant comic presence as Mary’s best gay boyfriend. It is brilliant casting to have Schupbach juxtaposed to Williams. Joseph has as slight paunch and wears suspenders but has all of the moves down. His character is not only a Greek Chorus member but an alter ego to Mary Minnelli.  Joseph seems like the kid from Iowa who puts on a show in the barn with the neighborhood kids just like Judy and Mickey. He has some great comments that drip with just enough acid to etch painful memories in Mary Minnelli’s psyche.

There are actually many similarities between Mary Fons and Liza Minnelli other than the startling looks. Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli made legendary bad choices in husbands. The exes were overbearing, codependent , and quite often gay. Mother and daughter struggled with health problems and addictions in mammoth proportions. Liza Minnelli had several miscarriages and is asked by Geraldo Rivera (he of the cult of celebrity news) if she wants children even after all that happens. There it is projected onto a bulb lined screen larger than life and was it just me or did everyone still flinch at Rivera’s insensitive questioning in the name of ‘journalism’? It is both good and not so good that Fons turns the microscope on her personal health crises. It is horrible to hear of her parallel suffering with her ‘mother’ Liza in that she cannot have children. She tells of extended stays at the famed Mayo Clinic where she spies upon the celebrity ward of the hospital. It is uncomfortable to hear Fons speak of the Egyptian cotton sheets and custom meals in the celebrity ward. I flinched at the comment that ‘surely Liza Minnelli would be in the celebrity ward’ at Mayo. Suffering becomes a touchstone that goes on for way too long and drags the last part of Act I.

Joseph Schupbach, Mary Fons and Donnell Williams in 'Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli's Daughter" at Neo-Futurists

It was enough to know that Ms. Fons shares an inability to have children and other medical crises with Liza Minnelli. It’s when she begins to draw the tabloid parallels wherein every detail is laid bare and devoured by a rabid public that I felt it went too far. Ms. Fons does not have a colon due to autoimmune disease. She recounts the pikes in her arms and near death experiences right out of the National Enquirer. It felt hammer handed after the third mention of the pikes in her arms and veins leading to her heart.

On the other hand Ms. Fons performs the transformation to Mary Minnelli with the same frantic and wonderfully over the top energy that Liza Minnelli seems to emanate. The drugged out days of Studio 54 are done in a wonderful dream sequence where members of the audience are invited to dance in the stage area. The wall is broken as they discuss whether or not they can really drink on stage and Fons gamely yells for the iced tea standing in for Jack Daniels and Splenda standing in for piles of cocaine. The references to Hedy Weiss’ remarks about the Neo-Futurists space being ‘a dump over a funeral home’ got to be a little tired as well. We get it. You all are kicking edgy in your face theatre butt and Weiss can suck it.

Fons’ performance is remarkable to watch just for the physicality of it. She is soaked in perspiration and it seems as if all of her nerves are exposed when she portrays Mary Minnelli trapped between realities. She manages to belt out some songs, run on a speeding treadmill, and recreate the "Cabaret" scene with updated music from the post modern icons-Madonna and Lady Gaga. It is a jaw dropping experience.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
   
   

Donnell Williams, Mary Fons and Joseph Schupbach in 'Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli's Daughter" at Neo-Futurists

Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli’s Daughter runs Thursdays , Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm through June 4th at The Neo-Futurarium at 5153 N. Ashland Ave. in Chicago.  Tickets are $15, $10 for students/seniors with ID, or pay-what-you-can on Thursdays. (Reserve tickets online).  Yes it really is over a funeral home but the brilliant creativity that is the life blood of the company gives off light and life!

  
  

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REVIEW: Jenny & Jenni (Factory Theater)

     
     

Funky Freestyle Aerobic Friendship

     
     

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The Factory Theater presents
   
Jenny & Jenni
   
Written by Shannon O’Neill
Directed by Laura McKenzie
at
Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston  (map)
through Dec 18 |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Heaven only knows what drugs inspired Shannon O’Neill’s disco-fevered aerobic dance flashback, but Jenny & Jenni, a new comedy produced by The Factory Theater at Prop Theatre’s space, throws down a litany of 1970’s zaniness like no other. The show begins with the claim that—forget Jane Fonda–these two fictional exercise queens were the real start of the 70’s workout craze. Jenny (Shannon O’Neill), spelled normally with a “y,” and Jenni (Christine Jennings), spelled weirdly with an “i,” are high school rejects with crappy, self-absorbed and neglectful parents. They find each other and take the audience on a ride through every absurd 70’s trend with all the Jenny and Jenni posterhyped-up positive outlook of your favorite 70’s sitcom.

Laura McKenzie directs this picaresque ode to the evolutionary beginnings of jazzercise, spandex, and headbands. The show comes in under two and a half hours but for all that, McKenzie runs a tight, organized and whipsmart ensemble. Even transitions between scenes are choreographed with military precision to keep energy up and the fun going; the cast drives the show from beginning to end at an exacting pace. 70’s tunes dominate the dance/aerobic choreography of Donnell Williams, so rest assured the actors are feeling the burn while they joke about feeling it.

By far, the comedy standouts are Nick Leininger, taking on roles such as a smarmy Health Teacher and an encounter group leader, among others. William Bullion makes yet another deadpan funny fringe appearance as Riggins, the principal of Jenny and Jenni’s high school, who is absolutely plum loco about Scottish heritage. High school archenemy Lola St. James (Aileen May) and her gang of mean girls (Kathryn Hribar, Elizabeth Levy, Kim Boler and Sarah Scanlon) try to keep Jenny and Jenni down but Mr. Riggins gives them their first big morale boost to hit the road and build their aerobic workout dream.

Jenny & Jenni has a wild assortment of hilarious scenes. There’s the Scottish Highland Dance competition with Mr. Riggins and his stiff, proper Scottish sidekick, Aidan (Ted Evans). There’s the hallucinogenic drug scene, when, Jenny and Jenni posterdemoralized, Jenny and Jenni lose track of their dream and go off on wild benders of their own. There’s the encounter group session—a scene that deserves its own award for bringing back hysterical reminders of the prevalence of Me Generation pop psychology. There’s the reintroduction of Kathryn Hribar as Crazy Person, which single-handedly manages to amp up the crazy quotient for the whole second act.

The show could still use a strong editorial hand. The aerobic dance-off between Jenny and Jenni’s entourage versus Lola St. James’ Studio 54-style entourage veers into train wreck territory and loses its comic impact. Plus, the show tries for a sweet and happy ending with a reformed Lola seeing the error of her ways. The transformation is neither emotionally convincing nor even necessary, comically speaking. As for the friendship between Jenny and Jenni, O’Neill and Jennings have a wonderfully simple, understated and convincing bond but more humor could be made of their fabulously bizarre, mutual desire to get down and boogie-oogie-oogie.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
      
     

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Ensemble

Wm. Bullion, Kim Boler, Matt Engle, Ted Evans, Kathyrn Hribar, Christine Jennings, Nick Leininger, Elizabeth Levy, Aileen May, Shannon O’Neill, Sarah Scanlon

Production and Creative Team

Directed By: Laura McKenzie
Written by: Shannon O’Neill
Produced by: Manny Tamayo & Timothy C. Amos
Scenic Designer: Ian Zywica
Sound Designer: Brian Lucas
Lighting Designer: Jordan Kardasz
Costume Designer: Emma Weber
Technical Director: Dan Laushman
Choreographer: Donnell Williams
Props Master: Josh Graves
Stage Manager: Allison Queen
Asst. Stage Manager: Christina Dougherty
Graphic Designer: Jason Moody

Original Music By: Laura McKenzie

 
 

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About Face announces 2010-2011 Season, future plans

Artistic Director Bonnie Metzgar Announces 15th Season

 

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Including Three World Premieres, New Artistic Associates, and XYZ Festival

Celebrating the 15th anniversary of About Face Theatre, it looks like Artistic Director Bonnie Metzgar and new Executive Director Jason Held have upped the ante for the start of their next 15 years.  Included in the upcoming season is Float by Patricia Kane, Pony by Sally Oswald and The Homosexuals by Phillip Dawkins, are their second annual XYZ Festival of New Works

 

 

 

 

About Face is excited to roll out our 15th anniversary with a season that examines individuals at the precipice of change,” says Bonnie Metzgar. “As our organization and society at large both make pivotal choices, this season looks at the risks and exhilarating possibilities available to us in periods of transformation.

 

October 2010

XYZ Festival

The XYZ Festival will introduce Chicago audiences to the most innovative LGBTQA artists and artworks at all stages of development. Presented over the month of October, projects will include a workshop production of TINY ROOMS by Carson Kreitzer, and new works from AFT About Face Artistic Associates Tanya Saracho and Patrick Andrews, as well as a performance lounge series featuring AFT Artistic Associate Dan Stermer’s performance art/dance trio Double DJ, curated by AFT Marketing Director Jane Beachy. From the hundreds of scripts received for the XYZ Readings Series, four new plays by acclaimed emerging playwrights round out the festival.

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November 11 – December 12

Float

FLOAT, a new play written by About Face Theatre (AFT) Artistic Associate Patricia Kane and directed by 500 Clown founder Leslie Danzig with dramaturgy by Jessica Thebus. The all-female cast includes Wendy Robie, Adrianne Cury, Peggy Roeder, Rengin Altay and AFT Artistic Associate Amy Matheny. FLOAT will run from November 11 – December 12 at Theater Wit (1229 West Belmont).

 

April-May 2011 

Pony

 

In April/May, About Face Theatre will present the world premiere of PONY by Sally Oswald, a play inspired by Georg Büchner, at the Chopin Theatre. Directed by Bonnie Metzgar, PONY will be featured as part of The Woyzeck Project, a city-wide festival hosted by About Face Theatre, The Hypocrites, and Collaboraction in which artists around the city will produce hybrid works inspired by the classic anti-war play. Set near the location of the famous murder scene in Woyzeck, PONY is a tale of shifting gender roles and the dangers of obsessive love.

 

June/July 2011

The Homosexuals

About Face Theatre will conclude its season in June/July with The Homosexuals by Chicago playwright Phillip Dawkins, starring Patrick Andrews at Victory Gardens Studio. The Homosexuals presents the interwoven lives, friendships, and relationships among six homosexual men over six years. Set at present time in a Midwestern city, Dawkins’ comedic and heartbreaking work examines the fears, doubts, and hope among the gay community in a 21st century perspective on the queer classic, The Boys in the Band.

About Face Theatre’s 15th Anniversary Season exemplifies how far the LGBTQ community has come from being defined by one issue to being seen as complex. In our 15 years, AFT has given voice to that changing dialogue around issues facing the queer community. As we move forward, we understand the need to bring the conversation around sexuality and gender to all people,” says Executive Director Jason Held.

 

 

 

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