Review: An Enemy of the People (Stage Left Theatre)

  
  

Stage Left’s ‘Enemy’ requires suspension of cynicism

  
  

William Watt as Doctor Stockmann, An Enemy of the People. Photo credit: Johnny Knight

  
Stage Left Theatre presents
   
An Enemy of the People
   
Original play by Henrik Ibsen
Adapted by
Arthur Miller
Directed by
Jason Fleece
at
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
through April 3  |  tickets: $22-$28  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

‘Before many can know it, one must know it.’ Corporate, government, media, medical: which “expert” is most credible to announce an environmental threat? Stage Left Theatre presents An Enemy of the People. The play was originally written in 1882 by Henrik Ibsen and adapted in the 1950’s by Arthur Miller. It’s1959 in Norway. The Institution has capitalized on a vacation hot springs spot. The entire town benefits from tourists seeking a healthy retreat. The doctor at The Institution finds killer bacteria in the water. Delighted over the important scientific discovery, the doctor tells the mayor the deadly risk to the community. The mayor doesn’t have an emergency response. In fact, the mayor believes the real harmful substance isn’t in the water…. it’s his brother. The mayor and the doctor also happen to have a toxic brother relationship. The doctor wants to alert the public to the health risk. The mayor wants to Scene from 'An Enemy of the People'. Stage Left Theatre. photo by Johnny Knightisolate the problem… his brother. It takes a village to avoid a scandal. The town takes sides against a brother. An Enemy of the People is a nostalgic look back at days gone be. It’s the simpler times when elected officials, local newspapers, and spring waters were unquestionably pure.

The premise of the play requires suspension of cynicism. In 2011, Americans drink water out of bottles, scan the Internet for credible media sources, and scrutinize every politician comment for bullshit. The very plot of the play requires a childlike wonder that is difficult to muster. Without it, connecting with the characters is difficult. This particular production never quite successfully bridges the generational gap. Some directorial choices by Jason Fleece makes the flow clunky and artificial. The large cast has some individual standout moments but overall seems disjointed in attempts to come together. In the lead, William J. Watt (Doctor) plays it over-the-top and in-the-face, whining his opinion. Watt seems less like a man of science and more like a spoiled child. In a complete departure from the play’s intention, a sympathy arises for his persecutors.The other brother, Cory Krebsbach (Mayor) plays it much more subtle. Krebsbach is all-politician smooth-talking the town into rallying against medical expertise and their own health. Bringing comic relief, James Eldrenkamp (Aslaksen) is funny ‘in moderation’, Kurt Conroyd (drunk) makes a hysterical spectacle and Sandy Elias (Morton) is a curmudgeon cartoon.

The set, designed by Alan Donahue, has an Ikea-does-cabin-look. It’s all wooden with a strong modern ambiance. Apparently, the middle of the set provides a shadowboxing effect for a mob scene. The audience semi-circles the stage. I was sitting stage right and didn’t observe the dramatic effect.

Back in the day, An Enemy of the People must have raged a war on authority. Today, Americans are continually in conflict with leaders. The evolution of thought to modern times makes the content less profound. This production is somewhere between an enemy and a friend of the people.

  
  
Rating: ★★
   
  

An Enemy of the People continues at Theater Wit through April 3rd, with performances Thursdays, Friday, and Saturdays at 7:30pm; Sundays at 2:30pm.  Running time is two hours and thirty minutes with a ten minute intermission. Tickets are $22-$28, and can be purchased online or by calling 773-975-8150.

  
  

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Review: Leaving Iowa (Fox Valley Repertory)

     
     

‘Leaving Iowa’ backs its rustic corniness with heartfelt characters

     
     

Diane Dorsey (Mom), Don Forston (Dad), Katherine Banks (Sis), Alex Goodrich (Don) in 'Leaving Iowa' by Tim Clue and Spike Manton - directed by Rachel Rockwell

   
Fox Valley Repertory presents
  
Leaving Iowa
       
Written by Tim Clue and Spike Manton
Directed by Rachel Rockwell
at Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles (map)
thru March 13  |  tickets: $29-$39  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

As a boy, I endured my share of 6-hour road trips to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, a pint-sized rural town where my sister attended college. I can’t say the experience left me with playwrights Tim Clue and Spike Manton’s fondness for the Hawkeye State, but I can appreciate the sentiment behind this charming family comedy.

Leaving Iowa is straight-up Americana, full of the diner waitresses, Civil War re-enactors, helpful motel clerks and hyped-up mechanics we like to believe still pepper the Midwestern landscape. The narrative is familiar but sturdy: Don, a city boy (Alex Goodrich), returns home to take care of family business and finds himself reconnecting with his roots in the process.

'Leaving Iowa' by Tim Clue and Spike Manton - directed by Rachel Rockwell, playing at Pheasant Run Resort by the Fox Valley Repertory.

On a mission to scatter his father’s ashes, he is hit with a wave of nostalgia for his family car trips. The action leaps back and forth between Don’s narration (richly performed, which is no easy task with light-hearted material), his present day quest, and flashbacks to his vacation adventures with Mom (Diane Dorsey), Dad (Don Forston), and Sis (Katherine Banks). The childhood scenes are largely dominated by broad comedy—the kind you’d expect in a self-rated PG play about nostalgia and making things right. At times, jokes about incessant backseat wailing just become incessant wailing, but mostly the gentle humor earns at least a smile.

The real heart of the show lies in Don’s relationship with his father. For a play that ends its first act with an ensemble chorus of “This Land is Your Land” set against a waving flag, director Rachel Rockwell touches on some unexpectedly honest, complicated ideas about growing up. When adult Don tries to have a long-distance phone call with his father, boredom and guilt fill the pauses in between banal sports chatter and monosyllabic responses. Dad, planted in front of a television, silently hurts. The son lacks the will to make the connection his old man needs.

The same goes for a later lament about opportunities passed.

This father-son duo has convincing chemistry. Forston is loveable, and Goodrich fills the All American Boy bill with a sense of earnestness and relatable imperfection. Wacky bits about navigating in the bygone collapsible-map era are swell, but Rockwell never lets us forget there are real humans in that car. The show contains substance underneath its silliness—themes that are affecting and brave.

In other words, Leaving Iowa gives us the apple pie without making us stomach too much gooey, fluorescent cheese on top.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
     
  

Stop Fighting!  Diane Dorsey (Mom), Don Forston (Dad), Katherine Banks (Sis), Alex Goodrich (Don) encounter a vacation car fight in 'Leaving Iowa' by Tim Clue and Spike Manton - directed by Rachel Rockwell

Artists

Cast: Diane Dorsey (Mom), Don Forston (Dad), Katherine Banks (Sis), Alex Goodrich (Don), Sean Patrick Fawcett (Character Man), Anna Carini (Character Woman), Torey Adkins (Male Understudy), Géraldine Dulex (Sis Understudy), Valerie Glowinski (Mom & Character Woman Understudy)

Production: Rachel Rockwell (Director), Tim Clue & Spike Manton (Playwrights), Mike Tutaj (Video Designer), Yousif Mohamed (Lighting Design), Elizabeth Flauto (Costume Design), Kevin Depinet (Scenic Design), Miles Polaski (Sound Design), Kristi J. Martens (Stage Manager), Laura Eilers (Performance Assistant Stage Manager), Mark Johnson (Replacement Stage Manager), Jesse Gaffney (Properties Master)

***NOTE: Valerie Glowinski has taken over role of The Character Woman***

Leaving Iowa, Rachel Rockwell, Tim Clue, Spike Manton, Fox Valley Rep

REVIEW: The Lost Boys of Sudan (Victory Gardens Theatre)

Rhyming verse, didactic storytelling hinder production

 (from left) Leslie Ann Sheppard, Samuel G. Roberson, Jr., Namir Smallwood, Kenn E. Head, Ann Joseph, Adeoye, Latricia Sealy and Nambi E. Kelley.  Photo Credit: Liz Lauren

 
Victory Gardens presents:
 
The Lost Boys of Sudan
 
Written by Lonnie Carter
Directed by
Jim Corti
at
Victory Gardens Biograph, 2433 Lincoln (map)
through April 25th (more info)

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

(from left) K-Gar Ollie (Leslie Ann Sheppard), A.I. Josh (Namir Smallwood) and T-Mac Sam (Samuel G. Roberson, Jr.) . Photo credit: Liz LaurenFrom the Sudanese desert to the frozen plains of Fargo, Lonnie Carter‘s The Lost Boys of Sudan is epic in scope. The story of three displaced Sudanese teenagers, the play uses the central plot of the boys’ search for a home as a stepping-stone to discussing such varied topics as religion, colonialism, and poaching – but Carter’s critiques often diminish the emotional intensity of the core relationship between the boys. The best parts of the play are when the boys are faced with the trials that come  from their circumstances: escaping crazed oil riggers, encountering twelve year old foot soldiers, boarding the plane to Fargo.  But the juxtaposition of this powerful storytelling versus generalized rants about the “Palinolithic age” only serve to derail the production.

The writing switches between prose and rhyming verse, and the shift is often jarring and unnecessary. Rhyming words become the ear’s focus and distract from the action of the play, and sometimes the rhymes feel like a stretch so that they can fit into the script (main offenders: "wet noodle" and "caboodle"; reciting "the itsy bitsy spider").

The efforts of director Jim Corti and his talented ensemble balance out the flaws of the writing, creating a final product that is technically impressive and incredibly polished. All of the actors have a great handle on the difficult African dialects, and as maligned as the verse may be, the entire ensemble approached the language with confidence. Narrator Ayoun (Nambi E. Kelley) does a great job connecting with the audience, delicately controlling the script’s wordplay and adding depth to the occasionally purple prose.

The boys, T-Mac Sam (Samuel G. Roberson, Jr.), K-Gar Ollie (Leslie Ann Sheppard), and A.I. Josh (Namir Smallwood), have great chemistry together, firmly established in those first moments where they must band together to brave the dangers of their hostile environment. The three actors do a great job of playing roles considerably younger than their actual ages, and as the characters mature you can hear the changes in their voices and see it in their bodies.

(front, w/gun) Adeoye plays a Sudanese guerrilla fighter, who confronts three Lost Boys (rear, from left) T-Mac Sam (Samuel G. Roberson, Jr.), K-Gar Ollie (Leslie Ann Sheppard), and A.I.Josh (Namir Smallwood) in Victory Gardens Theater's Chicago premiere of The Lost Boys of Sudan (photo: Liz Lauren) (from left) T-Mac Sam (Samuel G. Roberson, Jr.), A.I. Josh (Namir Smallwood), and K-Gar Ollie (Leslie Ann Sheppard) in Victory Gardens Theater's Chicago premiere of The Lost Boys of Sudan (photo credit: Liz Lauren)
Samuel G. Roberson, Jr. is one of three teens who makes an extraordinary passage from Sudan, to of all places, Fargo, North Dakota, in Lonnie Carter's "The Lost Boys of Sudan" (photo: Brett Neiman) lost-boys3

Sheppard gives a stand-out performance as K-Gar, the girl whose mother dresses her up as a boy to escape rebels razing their village, proving herself this season’s go-to girl for playing younger characters (The Hundred Dresses, The Snow Queen). K-Gar finds strength in her masculine disguise, one powerful scene has her taking up arms against men looking to enlist them as child soldiers, and this power stays with her even after she reveals herself and begins her life as a woman in America. After graduating high school, she refuses to stay in the sheltered United States, instead returning to Sudan so that she can counsel children like Twelve (Latricia Kamiko Sealy), a gun-toting preteen killer.

In Carter’s high concept script, Twelve is the concept that works the best. She appears at the start of the production to kill A.I. Josh’s father, later returning as a radio operator and finally a student at the camp where the lost boys are rescued. Twelve is the voice of all the children of Sudan, and Sealy plays the character with a ferocity that transforms into vulnerability as her immature mind copes with the terrors she committed. Twelve reveals the life the main characters would have if they had not escaped the various threats they encounter, and serves as a fantastic foil for the main characters, a lost girl that is never rescued.

 
Rating: ★★½
 

 

(front, from left) Nambi E. Kelley, Leslie Ann Sheppard, LaTricia Kamiko Sealy, and (rear, from left) Adeyoye, Samuel G. Roberson, Jr., Kenn E. Head and Ann Joseph (photo credit: Liz Lauren)

 

      

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REVIEW: Here Where It’s Safe (Stage Left Theatre)

Exposes disturbing trend of foreign surrogate mothers

 safe3

Stage Left Theatre presents:

Here Where It’s Safe

 

Written by M.E.H. Lewis
Directed by
Scott Bishop
through April 3rd
(more info)

Review by Barry Eitel

Stage Left’s most recent offering, Here Where It’s Safe, definitely fits in with their declared purpose of exploring socio-political subjects. The new play sifts through an ethical quagmire that has international implications: the rising issue of barren couples paying foreign women to have children for them. M.E.H. Lewis focuses on Indian surrogates in Here Where it’s Safe, telling a very contemporary story about an American woman’s relationship with the young Indian girl that’s carrying her baby. It’s a massively relevant tale full of current statistics, figures, and headlines, but the social topics of the play overshadow the dramatic gravitas.

safe2 This is the last show Stage Left is doing in their long time space on Sheffield; they will be moving into the Theatre Wit complex for next season. They make a grand exit with scenic designer William Anderson’s gorgeous set. His design envelopes the space, placing us in a traditional Indian world with intricate motifs in metal and wood. Scenes travel thousands of miles and take us from America to India, and the set is open enough to allow all of the scenes to happen with short transitions. Complemented by Jessica Harpenau’s lights and Elizabeth Flauto’s colorful costumes, the production forms a fascinating world.

On the whole, the performances are pretty convincing, although sometimes there seems to be a disconnect among the ensemble. Cat Dean is Abigail, a woman ravaged by her failed attempts to have a child. Dean carries the show, but can also be a bit too stoic at times, which teeters on boring an audience. Her best work is when she is in the scenes with Mouzam Makkar, who plays Beena, the 19-year old girl Abigail is paying to have her baby. Makkar has the best performance in the production, capturing the youthful brattiness of a teenager combined with the emotional maturity of a wife and mother forced to make tough choices. She is a blank slate with the ability to project and withhold intentions and motivations from her scene partners and the audience. Occasionally, though, what drives her forward is hard to read even in the intimate space. Cory Krebsbach is goofy yet lovable as Abigail’s husband and Anita Chandwaney is excellent as Dr. Uma, Beena’s “boss” at the surrogate agency. safe1 The weak link in the cast is Kate Black as Abigail super-liberal friend Jem, who doesn’t seem to have much of a point besides providing a progressive worldview on the matter and saying “breeder” a lot. Supposedly Jem helps flesh out the ethical issues, but Black comes across as detached and uncaring.

I think the cutting of a couple of scenes would strengthen the play. As it is, Lewis’ script extends itself too far, having a lot of shorter scenes. They begin to feel extraneous after awhile. The plot and themes could be consolidated; the play could kick harder. It feels like Lewis was really excited to confront her audience with an issue that gets very little facetime in the media. However, the play that wraps it could be more coherent. The text evolves around themes, instead of a script giving birth to social, political, and economic questions. The characters all have their reasons, personalities, and the plot is logical, but the work as a whole seems more concerned with putting out a message than telling a compelling story.

I was never bored by the show, nor turned off by any of the more overt political discussions, and it does shed light on a little-known yet somewhat disturbing trend. Here Where it’s Safe could just be made a lot more powerful if it didn’t tangle itself in some vague opinions.

 

Rating: ★★½

 

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REVIEW: Funny Girl (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Go to ‘Funny Girl’ for the music

 Marc Grapey Adam Pelty Sara Shepard Jameson Cooper Tammy Mad

Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace presents:

Funny Girl

Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, book by Isobel Lennart
Conceived by Gary Griffin and William Osetek and directed by William Osetek with associate director David New
Music direction by Ben Johnson
Through March 7 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Sara Shepard Barbra Streisand so owned her role in Funny Girl that the 1964 musical has never had a Broadway revival. Loosely based on the life of stage and screen star Fanny Brice (1891–1951), the original ran 1,348 performances, became a hit film in 1968 and forever associated the songs "People" and "Don’t Rain on My Parade" with Streisand. Since the leading actress sings 14 of the 19 songs in the score, that’s a tough act to follow.

So let’s get the inevitable comparison over with: Spirited Sara Sheperd, in the leading role of Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace’s solid, sophisticated production of "Funny Girl," neither looks nor sounds like Streisand. In fact, she resembles Brice more closely than Streisand does. Her voice, though, is all her own, and she more than holds her own in the part.

If you’re going to this musical for the music, you won’t be disappointed. Jule Styne and Bob Merrill wrote wonderful songs and Sheperd gives them full measure.

Acting excels, as well. Sheperd plays Fanny with verve and a Brooklyn tang. We also see fine acting and talented dance moves from Jameson Cooper, as her fallback friend and mentor Eddie Ryan. Catherine Smitko is keenly sardonic as Fanny’s saloon-keeping mother, and Paul Anthony Stewart suavely shallow as her smooth-talking lover, Nick Arnstein.

If you’re looking for the color and grandeur of Brice’s vaudeville and "Ziegfeld Follies" career, that’s another story. This is a dark version of a troublesome show.

Holly Stauder Iris Lieberman Cathy Smitko Mary Mulligan Joey Stone Ensemble
Joey Stone Sara Shepard Nicole Hren Ariane Dolan Jameson Cooper

Told as a flashback in short, choppy scenes, the storyline covers the feisty comedienne’s determined rise from little-known Brooklyn performer to Broadway star and her love affair with Arnstein, a playboy, gambler and con man. Isobel Lennart’s uneven book reduces Brice’s life to a series of aphorisms. Stamped more by 1960s sensibilities than by those of Brice’s lifetime, the script sweeps aside such issues as Brice’s pre-wedlock pregnancy and sends a slew of mixed messages.

Are we supposed to admire Fanny for her plucky self-confidence as a performer or pity her for her profound insecurity over her looks? Should we applaud the stick-to-itiveness that leads her to practice all night or the devil-may-care with which she abandons long-sought success and leaves associates in the lurch to go running after a man? "Funny Girl" seesaws so rapidly through different moods, we’re left to wonder whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy.

Paul Anthony Stewart Paul Anthony Stewart Sara Shepard Sara Shepard 2

Every show needn’t have deep meaning, and I don’t mind much when songs and dance numbers trump plot and continuity in musicals. This production, weighted toward the downside, though, gives us little razzmatazz to counter the incongruities of the script.

Sheperd’s renditions of the well-known songs sometimes come off as slightly breathless, making numbers like "I’m the Greatest Star" curiously understated. Restrained scenes out of the celebrated "Follies" add no flash — in Act II’s "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat," for example, costume designer Elizabeth Flauto dresses the chorus in olive drab, and the showgirls of the chorus wander through the scenes clad in street clothes or rehearsal wear. Instead of Ziegfeld’s pomp and glamour, we get rear-alley views and lackluster dance sequences. The stage often looks too empty.

A brave production, with excellent performances, Funny Girl is worth its ticket price, but don’t expect catharsis. At show’s end, we don’t know whether to applaud Fanny or cry for her.

Rating: ★★★

Kent Haina Nicki Hren Joey Stone Zach Zube Anne Acker Jarret