Review: War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short (Viaduct)

 
 

A scintillating evening of dance and theater

  
  

Prologue to "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

   
Jim Manganello presents
   
   
War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short
       
Adapted and Directed by Jim Manganello
Choreography by Amanda Timm and Sarah Fornace
at Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave. (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is a collaboration of theater and dance companies. They are some of the best that Chicago and London across the pond offers. The result is a funny, relevant, and brilliant evening of theater. The artists and the support team hail from Redmoon, The London International School of the Performing Arts, Starkid, and Collaboraction.

Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta fight in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloTolstoy’s novel of the aristocracy, patriotism, and Napoleonic aggression rings frighteningly true of today’s society and the conflicts the world over.

This adaptation strips the novel down to a stark set with meager props. The set is colored in by the actors and dancers in a frenzy of stage combat, graceful dance, satirical renderings of the aristocracy, and stark reminders of the cost of war.

The players in this piece are exceptional together and individually. The timing for satire is more crucial that what is needed for traditional comedy. The segment of Napoleon being bathed, fed, and dressed while in the midst of a tirade is visual poetry. Napoleon, played by Marc Frost, is rolled in on a table stuffed with his limbs out in a zinc washtub. His head is adorned with a gilded laurel crown. From there is a brilliant pantomime of scrub, rinse and powdering the mini tyrant. Frost’s nudity is covered by a perfectly timed placement of towels and bath accoutrement.

Lauren Lopez does a funny turn as an aristocratic lady mocking the advances of a suitor. The baseness and ludicrous mores of the upper crust in Napoleon’s reign is brought to glaring light. She seduces a guest with the prospect of canapés and biscuits. Ms. Lopez is one of the founding members of Starkid Theater Company and true to her bio, she prances about the stage in a sylph-like manner that is seductive and endearing.

     
 Lauren Lopez, Blake Russell dance in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello
"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

Blake Russell plays a patriotic young man off to war. This segment is a poignant sketch of how a family is affected by war. The youth are drawn in by an atavistic need for battle-the territorial imperative. The result is the same no matter the era when war takes its toll. Russell imparts the disillusionment and sadness of a generation whether it be 1812 or modern times.

Dustin Valenta of Redmoon among others has an impish appeal as the prologue narrator and others in the production. There is a mischievous twinkle in eye that bodes gleeful mayhem to come.

"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloRounding out this cast is Luke Couzens as the Russian Captain and others. He stands out in the opening combat segment after he is stabbed by Dustin Valenta‘s character. The action represents 1812 but his screaming, "You fucking stabbed me! No I’m not alright!" brings the action to present day. He is touching and funny with a young man lost appeal.

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is minimalist with the props, but when they are used it is for maximum impact. A hidden fan produces a funny moment and the gauze/linen draping is a wonderful representation for the frozen tundra of Russia. Look out for the table in all of its incarnations and you may reconsider your relationship with pasta after one segment.

In all, I hope that there will be more collaboration of these talented actors, dancers, puppeteers, and acrobats. They work well together and their respect for the individual craft as well as the collective has produced something wonderful. This is a short run so get out this weekend to see War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short. The Viaduct is a great space. It is fun and artistic without airs of pretentiousness. It is literally located under a viaduct at 3111 N. Western Ave. There is a laid back lobby bar where you can chill before the performance. Go see it!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

The Atom Bomb scene in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

 

     
     

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REVIEW: Striking 12 (BoHo Theatre)

  
  

Good music does not a good musical make

  
  

Dustin Valenta, Mallory Nees, Eric Loughlin, Amy Steele

  
BoHo Theatre presents
  
  
Striking 12
 
Book/Music/Lyrics by Brendan Milburn,
Rachel Sheinkin and Valeria Vigoda 
Directed by
Lara Filip
at
BoHo Theatre, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through Jan 8  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Striking 12 isn’t so much a musical as it is a rock concert with a dramatic flare. The self-aware holiday play is about a fake rock band that tells the tale of a lonely man on New Year’s Eve who in turn tells the tale of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Match Girl”. It’s a story within a story within a story, but thanks to the lack of complexity and depth given to each plot line, it’s never particularly difficult to follow.

Dustin Valenta, Amy Steele, Mallory Nees, Eric LoughlinThe play begins with a bit of self-referential comedy and audience interaction. The actors enter and launch into a song about overtures that describes the conventions of an overture. The "band" then informs us that they are all actors before breaking the fourth wall by getting a band name from the audience. (The night I went they were Purple Nurple.)

Eventually, a story emerges about a recently single man (Eric Loughlin) who is alone on New Year’s Eve. Rather than attend the party of his wild and crazy friend (Dustin Valenta), he decides to sit like a bump on a log in the confines of his apartment. He is then visited by a door-to-door saleswoman (Mallory Nees), who is peddling full-spectrum holiday lights that fight off the winter blues. He denies her the sale, but not before having a brief conversation about “The Little Match Girl.” This inspires him to read the short story, which then becomes the dominating plot line of the play.

When there is less than 90 minutes to flesh out several concentric plots, you know the story is going to be a little light. And Striking 12 certainly is lacking when it comes to a compelling through line. But that’s not really what this play is about. Written by three successful musicians/composers (Brendan Milburn, Rachel Sheinkin and Valerie Vigoda), the selling point is the music and the talent of the performers. This certainly is a demanding production in that the actors must not only be able to act effectively, but they must also be able to sing and play instruments as well. And each one of the performers in BoHo Theatre Company’s production certainly is a triple threat. Valenta can drum and sing simultaneously, which is no easy task. Amy Steele is a gifted violinist and vocalist, while Nees’ ability to play guitar, bass, ukulele and the squeezebox is impressive.

Dustin Valenta, Mallory NeesBut is this good theatre? The music is catchy and reminiscent of artists like Ben Folds. The humor is bland, but it has its moments. The problem is the story. How can you have a good play without a compelling story? Striking 12‘s plot feels like an afterthought, as if the writers tried to squeeze elements of story into the piece after the music had been completed. By the play’s end, you have a few songs stuck in your head but not much else.

Additionally, the BoHo Theatre’s space doesn’t have the acoustics for a show like this. Vocals are easily overpowered by the thumps of a bass drum or even the singing of violin strings. The audio quality is akin to a basement rock show. The piece would be better served in a more spacious venue where the band doesn’t almost sit on top of the audience.

If you’re in the mood for a holiday-themed rock show, Striking 12 is a decent watch. But if you’re looking for good theatre, you’re striking out.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Mallory Nees, Eric Loughlin, Amy Steele, Dustin Valenta

  
  

  
  

REVIEW: The Cabinet (Redmoon Theater)

The Cabinet’s surreal artistry returns

 Cabinet Redmoon 09

 Redmoon Theater presents

The Cabinet

 

By Mickle Maher; conceived by Frank Maugeri
Music by Mark Messing
 
Directed by Vanessa Stalling
Through March 7 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

The shadowy carnival showman Dr. Caligari, and his prime exhibit, the never-waking somnambulist Cesare, have been the stuff of nightmare ever since the 1919 premiere of Robert Wiene’s spooky silent film “Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari.” A highlight of the German Expressionist movement, the film contrasts light and shadow in eerie, tilted sets; heavy, exaggerated makeup and a spooky, suspenseful story line revolving around a series of mysterious murders.

Cabinet Redmoon Cabinet 02Redmoon Theater‘s The Cabinet alters the story somewhat — here, Cesare becomes the narrator — but remains true to the original’s skewed, black-and-white imagery; sinister, melodramatic characters and surreal, dreamlike pace.

This production (inspired, a press release says, by a request from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel when Redmoon performed there last Halloween) is all but unchanged from the 2005 production.

Neil Verplank’s magical, 11-by-14-foot, wooden cabinet with its angular doors and drawers once again serves as a unique stage, setting off the rod puppets, shadow puppets and hand puppets beautifully designed for the first production by Lisa Barcy and Scott Pondrom. Clever pop-up books by Laura Miracle and Laura Annis also work into the show. Redmoon’s artistry remains impeccable.

Hissing and spitting, Cesare’s narration, a creepy voiceover by Colm O’Reilly (the only speaking role), seems to come from an old-fashioned gramophone (designed by Christopher Furman) jutting out from one of the doors, while the words of Dr. Caligari are conveyed through rear-projected supertitles at the cabinet’s top. Original music by Mark Messing, in the style of early 20th-century silent-film accompaniments, adds to the dark, uncanny mood.

Cabinet Redmoon 08 (2) Cabinet Redmoon 04
Cabinet Redmoon 06 Cabinet Redmoon Cabinet 03

Five ghoulish, grim-faced, androgynous puppeteers, fully made up, monocled and clad in black, white and shades of gray, slither through a variety of agile acrobatics onstage as they manipulate the more than 50 puppets through the cabinet’s 13 doors and drawers. Missi Davis, Sam Deutsch, Sarah Ely, Matt Rudy and Dustin Valenta contort themselves and pass puppets and props among themselves with clockwork precision.

The change of narrators does cut down the story’s suspense somewhat. Clearly, we’re supposed to sympathize with and fear for the unfortunate sleepwalker Cesare, the helpless tool of the evil doctor, caught in his endless nightmare — yet the mere fact that he’s telling the tale lets us know he comes out all right.

Haunting, and beautifully done, “The Cabinet” is no lightweight puppet show. Though whimsical in design, it feels ponderous and dirgelike — the hour-long piece seems to stretch much longer, as if the audience were caught in Cesare’s endless trance.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

Cabinet Redmoon 07Notes: “The Cabinet” is suitable for audiences 13 years old and up. Limited free parking is available at the theater.

At 10:15 p.m. Saturdays, Feb. 27 and March 6, Redmoon will host “Boneshaker,” an evening of music with DJ Red Menace, “environmental performances” and an open bar. Admission is free to ticketholders for the 9 p.m. performances of “The Cabinet” on those nights, $5 otherwise.

Scenes from The Cabinet, 2005

Review: Redmoon’s “Winter Pageant”

‘Winter Pageant’ reprises White House performances

 winterpageant

Redmoon Theater presents

Winter Pageant

By Vanessa Stalling, Frank Maugeri and Jim Lasko
Directed by
Vanessa Stalling
Through December 27th (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

pageant-swining Fresh from its triumphant Halloween performance at the White House, Redmoon Theater stages its nearly annual, alternative take on a family holiday show, Winter Pageant.

The theme of these shows over their 15-year history is always the same: Each unique pageant showcases the progression of the seasons and celebrates the return of spring — in always charming and often magical ways. The production avoids religion, hackneyed classics and Christmas commercialism and, as Artistic Director Frank Maugeri puts it, engineers "a journey that explores nature, humanity, ritual, storytelling…."

This year, perhaps because the production reprises performance elements from the troupe’s White House spectacle, much of the storytelling seems to have been lost. Instead, we have a disjointed, hour-long series of vignettes and technical wizardry. Plots have never been the strong point of these pageants, I grant you, yet usually there’s been a tale of sorts to carry the audience along.

Not only did I miss that, it became clear from the restlessness of the young audience that the kids did, too. Not that there aren’t plenty of wondrous sights for children. As the show opened and a young woman played with a toy car, I saw a father struggling to restrain his squirming 2-year-old, who wanted mightily to get in on the action.

The toy morphs into a marvelous full-sized car full of characters and cakes and a monstrous, goodie-stealing baby. Then we have a mechanical surrey with a flower garden and a bug-eating gardener on top — evidently representing summer.

pageant-boat pageant-stage

Judging by the colors and timing, next come autumnal rains and a marvelous underwater sequence that had the kids charging out of their seats. We also get some absurd pirates and wonderful illuminated hat puppets representing migrating swans. A bountiful banquet becomes a food fight. Winter, a dark and chilly sequence of crooked doll houses and shadow puppetry, follows. Spring explodes in drumming and tulips, but nevertheless seems anticlimactic.

Redmoon’s artistry is wonderful throughout, but this year’s pageant is perhaps best seen as a showcase of performance art, a series of artful spectacles, rather than a winter’s tale.

 

Rating: ★★½

 

pagenat-kids 

Note: Free parking at the theater and in a lot across the street.

Ensemble: Missi Davis, Nick Demeris, Sarah Fornace, Alexander Knapp, Matt Rudy, Eric Swanson and Dustin Valenta

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