Review: Verse Chorus Verse (Tympanic Theatre)

    
  

The Tragedy of Grunge, Redux

  
  

Dennis Frymire, Jon Penick, and Kevin Crispin - Verse Chorus Verse

  
Tympanic Theatre presents
  
Verse Chorus Verse
  
Written by Randall Colburn
Directed by Kyra Lewandowski
at side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through May 1  |  tickets: $12-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Not being a slave to rock ‘n’ roll, I’ve listened, puzzled, to people exclaiming that a certain rock band or music genre saved their lives. I’m equally flummoxed at the notion that any single music artist could be dubbed “the voice of a generation”—there are, after all, so many voices and the most deserving frequently fail to receive widespread attention. Nevertheless, fame places crowns upon a few–that some musicians end in tragedy only serves to superglue that dubious diadem upon the troubled rocker’s brow. Such is the life and music of Kurt Cobain. Tympanic Theatre’s latest production, Verse Chorus Verse, pulls its audience into the milieu of grunge fans, reporters and revivalists marked by Cobain’s death. It’s as if, from the moment he pulled the trigger, time stopped and all hope of going forward was lost.

Actually, Randall Colburn’s interesting new play, under Kyra Lewandowski’s direction at the Side Project Theatre, begins at a far earlier point in the Cobain legend. Fourteen year old Polly (Victoria Gilbert) gets kidnapped, raped and tortured by Gerald Friend (Neal Starbird(left to right) Victoria Gilbert and Neal Starbird - Verse Chorus Verse), who lures her into his car after a punk rock concert–the very same Polly becomes the heroine of Nirvana’s eponymous song on their album “Nevermind”. Flash forward twenty years later, the older Polly now fascinates Garret Leskin (Kevin Crispin), a budding grunge star heralded as the new Cobain, who thoroughly believes that Cobain was murdered. The play’s structure oscillates between the past and present, between that fateful kidnapping and its emotional reverberations far into the future.

For all the dialogue around Cobain and the burden of living up to his legend, the story really belongs to Polly. Gilbert gives a passionate edge to her role’s pathos. Polly is drug-addicted, trapped in the past, and, since becoming enshrined in Cobain’s lyrics, hardly able to see beyond the boundaries of her own legend. The murder mystery that Garret hopes to unravel through her is tangled in half-cooked fictions, inchoate emotional desperation and age-old resentments over who got fame and who got left behind. Dennis Frymore puts in a tough, grilling performance as Mason Dwyer, lead of the Satanic Metal Band, Yeti, who has lost his guitarist Terry (Jon Patrick Penick) to Garret’s up-and-coming band, Samsara.

Lewandoski’s direction also hangs pretty tough—making the most of the black box at Side Project with a spare but versatile set by Dustin Pettegrew. She squeezes every moment for tension and suspense from her cast, shifting between scenes where rockers spar over competing narratives and otherworldly scenes in which Polly survives her kidnapping by Friend, moment by moment, under a starry sky. This doesn’t mean Verse Chorus Verse is perfect. A few fellow audience members confessed to being confused over its alternating shifts between past and present. Plus, the show will obviously carry more meaning for viewers steeped in rock culture. But both the work and production show sophistication, even with its characters’ simplistic pre-occupation with fame. Everyone just wants to be remembered, even Mr. Friend, in a chilling performance by Starbird, tries to be remembered by leaving his marks on Polly’s flesh.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

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Verse Chorus Verse continues through April 7th at side project theatre (1439 W. Jarvis), with performances Thursday thru Saturday at 8:00pm, Sunday at 7pm.  Tickets are $15 general admission ($12 for senior/student/industry), and can be purchased online. For more info, go to www.tympanictheatre.org.

 

Photos by Paul E. Martinez.

 

 

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REVIEW: Dead Pile (XIII Pocket Ensemble)

  
  

Vegan play is all potatoes, no meat

  
  

Cast from XIII Pocket's  'Dead Pile': (left to right) Allie Long, Andy Lutz,  Justin James Farley (center), Mark Minton and Chip Davis.  Photo credit: Michael Litchfield

   
XIII Pocket Ensemble presents
   
Dead Pile
  
Written by Laura Jacqmin
Directed by Megan Shuchman
at Theater Wit, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
thru Feb 27  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

There are a couple positive things about XIII Pocket’s Dead Pile. For one, the play features some impressive acting talent. Justin James Farley as the animal-rights investigator protagonist delivers his lines with a distinct genuineness, even when the script is laughably melodramatic. Likewise, Andy Lutz (making his Chicago debut) injects some much-needed levity into his role as the alcoholic, antagonistic farmhand.

The other compliment I’ll pay is that – for a play that centers around such hot-button issues as animal rights, food production and ethical veganism – it avoids the pitfall of being too preachy. We never get that worn diatribe about the systemic abuses that plague dairy farms and meat producers. After all, propaganda (even if it is propaganda that this theater critic agrees with) does not necessarily make for good storytelling. Unfortunately, even without the predictable soapboxing, Dead Pile is dead on arrival.

Scene from XIII Pocket's 'Dead Pile' - (top) Andy Lutz (bottom) Allie Long and Justin James Farley. Photo credit: Michael LitchfieldThe play is about an animal rights investigator named Jeremy who is sent out on assignment by his non-profit boss (Chip Davis) to infiltrate a dairy farm. Once on the farm, Jeremy encounters a colorful cast of trite, two-dimensional caricatures. We have Russell (Mark Minton), the farmer’s progressive son who wants to transform his daddy’s property into an organic farm. Then there’s R.J. (Lutz), the tough farmhand who’s aggressive with women, yells at football games and likes beer too much. And finally we have Nance (Allie Long), the superfluous love interest who has bigger dreams than to be bound to an Indiana farm.

As Jeremy conducts his investigation, he’s continually pressured by his non-profit supervisors to gather animal abuse evidence so they can make a bust. Meanwhile, he’s warming up to Nance and Russell, which could compromise matters. It also means he’s probably not a competent investigator, but I guess that’s beside the point.

Playwright Laura Jacqmin‘s inhumane treatment of the audience is worthy of a PETA investigation. She muddles the play with unnecessary details while simultaneously robbing us of what should be the most dramatic scenes. The fact that Jeremy is black is brought up too many times without enough justification for its presence. Are we supposed to be surprised that not all Indiana farmers are racist bigots? And why end the first act with a frantic voice over, when you could just stage what sounds like a really engaging scene? And what about the big reveal, that moment that the audience has been anticipating the entire play where Jeremy’s status is revealed? It is done so swiftly and with no impact that it’s pointless that he reveals it at all.

Another major flaw is the melodrama. The biggest offending scene is one in which Jeremy and Nance share what might be the most forced intimate moment I have ever seen staged. Seriously, this scene has everything, from a Lifetime-esque sob story about Jeremy’s invalid brother to Nance begging Jeremy to take her with him when he leaves because, after all, anywhere is better than here.

I reserve additional criticism for Megan Shuchman, whose direction comes across as thoughtless. What purpose does it serve to have Davey visible to the audience throughout the entire play? What is the deal with the set design? With all the thrown about windowpanes, wood scraps and bric-a-brac it resembles the eye of a tornado more than a farm. Why waste stage space with an office and a bedroom you barely use while your actors are forced to largely perform in an ambiguous setting?

So while I applaud Jacqmin for striving to craft a story that refuses to preach to the choir, I fault her for producing an amateur script where the audience is robbed of sympathetic characters and climaxes. Concentrate on writing a good play with a great story, compelling scenes and dynamic characters. Without that as your base, your audience will wonder, "Where’s the beef?"

     
     
Rating: ★½
   
   

Dead Pile continues thru February 27th, running Thursdays-Sundays, February 4-27, at 8pm.  Performances occur at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago. Tickets priced at  $20 general admission and $12 student/senior. To purchase tickets, call the Stage 773 box office at 773-327-5252.  More info at http://www.xiiipocket.com.

Dead Pile - XIII Pocket Theater - banner

        
        

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REVIEW: Muerte Del Maestro (Tympanic Theatre)

   
  

Psychological thriller needs a little more thought

  
  

Tympanic Theatre - Muerte Del Maestro

   
Tympanic Theatre presents
   
Muerte Del Maestro
  
Written by Joshua Mikel
Directed by
Adam Webster
at
the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through Dec 22   |  tickets: $  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

I’ve got nothing against bad language. I curse constantly, and I’m a fan of David Mamet, who is known for his strings of profanity. What I’m not a fan of is ineffective bad language, language that basically serves as a lazy placeholder for other dialogue that would better suit the situation.

Unfortunately, Joshua Mikel‘s Muerte Del Maestro, produced by Tympanic Theatre, is like a parody of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Gratuitous foul language saturates the dialogue between protagonist Arturo (Chris Acevedo) and best friend/antagonist Kay Kay (Paul E. Martinez) to the point that we are removed from the action of the play. Sure, young men trade playful barbs all the time. But for the love of God, intersperse the four-letter words with some actual conversation.

To the play’s credit, as the action picks up and the psychological thriller begins to unfold, the ample profanity subsides, giving way to more reserved language that Muerte del maestro posterbetter conveys the characters’ emotions and the propels the plot. In fact, it is the play’s second half that earns it the 2.5 rating.

Muerte Del Maestro is about two young bullfighting fans who live in a small town in Spain. When their beloved bullfighter, La Muerte Negra, dies in the middle of a fight, the town hosts an open-call bullfighting championship to find the next great bullfighter. Both Kay Kay and Arturo think they have the skills. However, as the competition nears, Kay Kay’s mental state begins to crack. When he discovers Arturo has been carrying on a secret relationship with his sister, Pumpkin (Carla Alegre), he completely snaps.

None of the acting is remarkable, though Martinez shows some talent playing Kay Kay at his craziest. The most engaging performance is by puppeteers Ellen Girvin and Charlotte Mae Jusino who control a giant paper mache bull and a collection of shadow puppets.

The space is incredibly small and can feel incredibly cramped. Sometimes this works to the play’s benefit. When the large paper mache bull first makes his appearance, he seems massive in these tight quarters. However, it also works to the play’s disadvantage. The amount of unnecessary yelling at the top of the play is headache inducing, the loudness reverberating against the theater’s walls. Once again, like the ample profanities, this too serves to pull the audience out of the play.

Although the script is weak in its current form, it does have potential. The makings of an intriguing psychological thriller are here, and the pacing of Kay Kay’s descent into madness doesn’t feel jarring or forced. Still, I couldn’t help but to wonder why Arturo and Kay Kay were ever friends to begin with. With a few more rewrites, Mikel could have a very good piece of theatre on his hands.

Muerte Del Maestro is a brash play with a lot of attitude but little direction. With some well-directed strong actors and some significant changes to the script, this could be a very good drama. However, in its current form, it’s one step above tolerable.

     
      
Rating: ★★½
   

Cast and Creative Team

     


Chris Acevedo* / Arturo


Carla Alegre / Pumpkin


Paul E. Martinez* / Kay Kay

     


Megan Tabaque / Muerte Negra


Ellen Girvin / Bull


Charlotte Jusino / Bull

     

Joshua Mikel / Playwright

Adam Webster - side project theatre

Adam Webster / Director

 

Production Team:

Stage Manager: Joy Martin; Dramaturg: Aaron C. Thomas; Set Design: Dustin Pettegrew; Light Design: Brian Berman; Costume Design: Crystal Jovae Mazur; Sound Design: Stephen Ptacek; Puppet Design: Lizi Breit; Photos: Sergio Soltero