REVIEW: Jailbait (Profiles Theatre)

Teens grow up too fast in Profile’s tense tragicomedy

 

Emmy (Zoe Levin) and friend Claire (Rae Gray) in Profiles Theatre's "Jailbait" by Deidre O'Connor

   
Profiles Theatre presents
   
Jailbait
  
Written by Deidre O’Connor
Directed by
Joe Jahraus
at
Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway (map)
through October 17  |  tickets: $30-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

“We’re 15, everything fun is illegal,” Emmy (Zoe Levin) tells her friend Claire (Rae Gray) as they prepare to sneak into a 21-and-over nightclub. Over the course of Deidre O’Connor’s Jailbait, the two girls learn why those laws are in place when they’re paired off with Mark (Shane Kenyon) and Robert (Eric Burgher), two thirty-somethings looking for an undergrad-style night of drunken debauchery.

Emmy (Zoe Levin) and friend Claire (Rae Gray) in Profiles Theatre's "Jailbait" by Deidre O'ConnorWith children being exposed to sexually charged material at an earlier age, what was once considered deplorable behavior is becoming the norm for teenagers. Playwright Deidre O’Connor recognizes this changing social climate without passing judgment, letting the audience draw conclusions as the events unfold. The script realistically confronts the issue of teenage sexuality without being preachy, creating a complex situation where blame is shared between all involved parties and everyone is a victim.

With a cast of actors adept at creating believable characters, Joe Jahraus directs a tense, provocative production that reinforces the themes of the script beautifully. Gray gives an outstanding performance as Claire, who is simultaneously struggling with the pressures of adolescence and the loss of her father. Claire blossoms in the liberate environment of the adult world, and Gray captures both the awkward teen and confident woman in Claire beautifully.

In a play full of tense moments, Claire’s scenes with the newly single Robert are especially painful to watch because of the actors’ terrific chemistry, milking dramatic irony for all its worth as the attraction builds. An interesting dynamic develops during these scenes, with Robert acting more youthful and carefree as Claire matures, effectively bridging the emotional age gap while the physical and legal age gaps loom dreadfully. The play succeeds largely in part due to Burgher’s vulnerable, anxious, but ultimately charming portrayal of Robert, avoiding any predatory qualities that could compromise the innocence of his courtship with Claire. The character is likable, making it so much more difficult to watch him seduce a 15 year old girl.

In supporting roles, Levin and Kenyon are the drunker, rowdier pair, providing comic relief while still being given a fair share of meaty, dramatic moments. As a man whose “first wife hasn’t even born yet,” Mark is the closest thing to the play’s antagonist, with his manipulation setting tragic events in motion. Kenyon’s charisma makes it hard to hate the character, and he does have a point when it comes to the arguments he makes to lift Robert out of his slump – except for the part where the girls are 15. Levin spends a good amount of the show playing drunk, a difficult task she performs impressively, but she also gives Emmy a clear emotional journey, making her more vulnerable as the play progresses.

At the end of Jailbait, Claire and Emmy talk about the events of the night with the excitement of teenage girls gossiping about their latest crushes, free from the burdens of being an adult. This scene is welcome relief from the tension of the rest of the play, but also serves as a foreboding reminder that once the adult has touched you, it owns you. Growing up will happen no matter what, so why lose your childhood?

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Jailbait Press Photo 4

Production Personnel

Playwright: Deidre O’Connor
Director: Joe Jahraus
Featuring: Eric Burgher, Rae Gray, Shane Kenyon, Zoe Levin
Lighting Design: Jess Harpenau
Sound Design: Jeffrey Levin
Set Design: Sotirios Livaditis
Costumes:  Melissa Ng
Stage Manager:  Corey Weinberg

  
  

REVIEW: Body Awareness (Profiles Theatre)

Profound storytelling at Profiles

 

bodyawareness-top

   
Profiles Theatre presents
   
Body Awareness
 
by Annie Baker
directed by
Benjamin Thiem
at
Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway (map)
through June 27th  |  tickets: $30-$34  |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

The dilemma would vex Solomon: How to make sure you are seen without also being judged? Admitted or not, it’s a query that niggles at the very core of existence, a philosophical battle embedded in situations ranging from first dates to, arguably, last rites. Nobody wants to be invisible. But with visibility, there is an inevitable degree of objectification. Or is there?

Annie Baker’s Body Awareness puts the debate in terms as complex as they are hilarious and ironic. Directed by Benjamin Thiem for Profiles Theatre, this is the theatrical equivalent of a page-turner: The story is ultra-compelling, the characters are people you care about and recognize.  As for the fraught moral fog they attempt to navigate in dealing with issues of body, self, sexuality and fidelity, it’s the stuff of real life, minus the boring parts.

body-aware03 The conflict simmers toward boil-over when lesbian high school instructor Joyce (Barb Stasiw) starts bleaching, plucking and pruning a in preparation for a naked photo shoot.  Her partner Phyllis (Cheryl Graeff) quickly blows a righteous feminist gasket over the situation:  Joyce, Phyllis rails, is caving in to the demands of the “male gaze.”  By so succumbing, Phyllis threatens, Joyce is committing an unforgivable act.

So, is bleaching one’s mustache an act of willful subjugation to the patriarchal hierarchy? If one shaves ones legs before baring them in public, is one reinforcing the sort of deeply damaging objectification that turns women into sex objects  and nothing more? Or is the whole culture of plucking/waxing/bleaching/powdering/ad infinitum just indicative of an elevated sort of self-care? After all, if Joyce feels ugly walking around hirsute and au naturelle, surely it’s her right to make herself feel better (and beautiful) by breaking out the depilatories. As the questions roar, the undertone of ironic comedy is unmistakable. Who knew the simple act of plucking one’s unibrow could be so fraught with political implications?

Playwright Baker isn’t satisfied to simply frame a heated debate in terms of a highly literate lesbian couple. (Joyce is a high school teacher, Phyllis a college professor.) Body Awareness benefits hugely from the character of Joyce’s son Jared (Eric Burgher, all tightly wound nerves and frustrated anger),  a self-proclaimed “autodidact” with the social skills of a hermit with Tourette’s. In his early 20s, Jared still lives at home, has never had a date and when he’s not at McDonald’s slinging burgers, spends all of his time poring over the Oxford English Dictionary.

The three are thrown into an emotional vortex with the arrival of Body Awareness Week at Phyllis’  Bennington College-like campus. Amid the feminist puppet shows, the refugee camp dance companies, and the scholarly lectures on feminist paradigms in post-modern literature arrives photographer Frank (Joe Jahraus), a lensman who roams the country taking nude photos of women, including very young women.

Phyllis is appalled and all but calls Frank a kiddie-pornographer. Frank insists he empowers women by allowing them to shed their inhibitions (and their clothes.)  Joyce is intrigued, and eventually decides to pose herself. As for Jared, he turns to Frank for some blunt advice about getting girls.

Through it’s 85-minute run time, Body Awareness is seamless merger of a terrific text and an equally deft ensemble. Graeff completes a hat trick with the production. Coming on the heels of The Mercy Seat (our review) and Graceland (our review), this is her third role running at Profiles that defines the very notion of excellence. As Phyllis, she’s an intricate mix of braininess and elitist, of fiercely loyal partner and extremely frustrated de facto step-parent. She’s got a wry, dead-pan delivery that is priceless, yet for all Phyllis’ practical cynicism, Graeff never lets the audience lose sight of the woman’s deeply caring heart.

body-aware02Burgher also builds on a body of work that is ever more impressive, instilling Jared with the raw, raging hurt of a wounded animal and the obnoxious intellect of an idiot-savant. He’s also got a killer sense of comic timing. If you missed him in Men of Tortuga, Things We Said Today, or Graceland (we will never again be able to look at a decorative fruit arrangement without having an involuntary spit-take), this is your chance to see a young actor rapidly approaching the height of his considerable powers.

Then there’s Jahraus as the photographer/interloper.  Understated, slightly arrogant and slightly hostile, he’s a fine fulcrum for trouble. As Joyce, Barb Stasiw is a stand-in for Everywoman of a Certain Age, caught between the limitless demands of her  troubled child and the feminist ideology of her partner.

Thiem has the ensemble in seamless formation throughout, spinning a story of compelling ideas and vivid characters. If you leave Body Awareness mulling the implications of the dreaded male gaze, well, good for you. But for all its feminist theory and academic setting, Body Awareness is mostly a fine slice of storytelling.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
 
 

Review – “Graceland” at Profiles Theatre

The highly-recommended "Graceland", now playing at Profiles Theatre

Graceland
By Ellen Fairey
Now extended through August 16th
Profiles Theatre

Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Four lonely lives in the northside of Chicago intersect in Ellen Fairey’s creative story Graceland. The buzzing of fighter jets flying high above in the air show and the non-stop mention of the characters displeasure with the new smoking ban reminds us that the story takes place here at home. Sara (Brenda Barrie) and Sam (Eric Burgher) are struggling to understand their father’s recent suicide, and to cope with their own isolated lives. Frequently taking place at Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery, the story touches on the loneliness that that one can feel even while surrounded by people in a large populated city.

HORIZONTALSara is a single middle-class woman with obvious interweaving personal problems, and layers of complicated worries that are untold to the audience. In the opening scene Brenda expresses a sense of anxiety that is within Sara. She speaks and scutters around as if she has so many thoughts running through her head that she is unable to articulate them all. Sara is bothered by her brother’s sense of indifference and she jumps from one topic to another trying to get an emotional reaction from her brother Sam. 

On the exterior Sam is an emotionally cool, even-keeled young adult who does not over-react to the highs and lows in life. He hides his pain with hits from his bowl and tries to act as the rational one in their time of crisis. Sam is also dealing with the loneliness caused by his father before he died, when his father started sleeping with his ex girlfriend Anna (Somer Benson.) Partially to drown their sorrows with a beer and in part to find out more information on their father, the two leave and head to a local northside dive bar that their Dad frequented often.

"Graceland", now being performed at Profiles Theatre Sara’s drunken night at the bar does nothing but worsen her complicated situation. She ends up going back for a night cap with a smooth talking divorced patron from the bar with the motive of finding out more information on her father, but her desire for companionship leads to more. Waking up from a one-night stand with Joe (Darell W. Cox) and wearing nothing but his Chicago Bulls warm-up shirt, she is surprised to run into a familiar boy she met at the cemetery.

Joe’s son Miles (Jackson Challinor) is an only child from a broken home. His loneliness is expressed in his openness with strangers and desire for deeper conversation. Even with Sara’s obvious discomfort, Miles is not shy in talking about his father’s sex life with her or his father’s previous ladies. He his open with his own flirtations and mature in his comfort with older woman, and this leads to trouble.

As the four lives collide, we see the pain of loneliness and the regretful paths that it can cause people to choose. We also see the significance of random encounters, and the importance of the brief connections we make with each other.

Ellen Fairey’s comedic drama entangles a variety of complications within the four characters (and a surprising fifth near the end) to depict the loneliness the can occur even while surrounded by others in a crowded city. Her story moves with constant new developments that keep the personal turmoil within the characters building. Her choice of Chicago’s northside as the setting for her play, makes it that much more enjoyable for Profiles Theatre’s hometown audience.

Matthew Miller direction of Graceland keeps the action simple, and allows the dialogue and story to move the plot along. Mikhail Fiksel must have really enjoyed his role in the play creating the fantastic sound effects of fighter jets screaming overhead. William Anderson’s choice in the smaller details, like the Chicago Cubs Pennants hanging in Joe’s apartment and the floor made to look like grass with slender sidewalks, create a simple yet realistic setting that allows the audience to imagine the scene that is surrounding the characters throughout the different acts.

I wonder about the motive of the consistent rants against the smoking-ban. The cast was allowed to smoke in the last play (Great Falls by Lee Blessing) that I attended at Profiles Theatre, and that was after the smoking-ban took effect, what changed? Were the negative comments regarding the smoking ban a statement by Profiles Theatre due to being forbidden to smoke within their own theatre, or was it part of the script to help identify with the attitude of many middle-class young adults? Something leads me to think this was a personal statement by Profiles Theatre. One that disagrees with the effects the smoking ban has on the realism of performing certain acts.

Overall all of the actresses and actors did a wonderful job of creating distinct individuals. Brenda Barrie gives Sara depth beyond her verbal dialogue. In the beginning of the performance the conversations between each actress/actor felt real and unscripted, although as the play ran on some of the lines came off overly practiced and without sincere emotion behind their words. With the exception of Erick Burgher, who from start to finish stood out with his focus and complete transformation in to his character (Sam.)

Due to popular demand Graceland has now been extended through August 16th, and starting July 11th there will be an additional Saturday Matinee at 5:00pm. This is a great opportunity to see a Chicago-based play that will make you laugh and keep you talking about the events that take place in the play long after you leave the theatre.

Rating: «««

Where: Profiles Theatre
When: through: August 16th
(Thurs, Fri, Sat at 8 pm/Sun 7 pm, Saturday Matinees at 5 pm on July 11, 18, 25, August 1, 8, 15)
Tickets: Buy online at www.profilestheatre.org or call (773) 549-1815

For complete actor bios, click on “Read more”

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