Review: Pony (About Face Theatre)

  
  

Brilliant, fully-committed cast can’t bridle Bruchner’s ‘Pony’

  
  

Kristina Valada-Viars (Marie) and Kelli Simpkins (Pony) in About Face Theatre’s production of PONY by Sylvan Oswald, directed by Artistic Director Bonnie Metzgar.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

  
About Face Theatre presents
  
Pony
  
Written by Sylvan Oswald
Directed by Bonnie Metzgar
at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $21-$28  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel 

Woyzeck was left unfinished when its author Georg Buchner died of typhus at the tender age of twenty-three in 1836. Buchner’s bleak depiction of working class life touched a nerve in 19th Century Germany. Since then, plenty of artists have taken it upon themselves to finish, adapt, and tweak the original, including composer Alban Berg and filmmaker Werner Herzog. Lucky for us, the Chicago theatre community is putting on a Woyzeck smorgasbord this spring, with plenty of chances to see new spins on the story. Oracle Theatre  and the Hypocrites have put on somewhat straightforward versions of the play, but About Face decided to move further away from the Buchner with Pony by Sylvan Oswald.

Kristina Valada-Viars (Marie) and Kelli Simpkins (Pony) in About Face Theatre’s production of PONY by Sylvan Oswald, directed by Artistic Director Bonnie Metzgar.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.Superbly acted and wonderfully designed, I wished that Oswald had stuck closer to the primary source or had ventured further away. What director Bonnie Metzgar ends up with is a derivative tale that is usually engrossing and often funny, but doesn’t really make much sense.

While Buchner was writing about the proletariat, Oswald is writing about gender identification. Every character in the play is either transgendered or interested in one, including Oswald’s stand-in for Woyzeck, Pony (Kelli Simpkins). Added to his woes about money and love, Pony must also deal with being outted in a potentially hostile community.

Pony takes place in the town across the forest from Woyzeck’s world. Instead of Industrial-age Germany, though, Pony’s world looks like a grimy Pennsylvania coal mining town of the 1980s. Everyone is covered in grit and everyone is poor.

Pony rides into town and instantly falls for Marie (Kristina Valada-Viars), a waitress obsessed with the murder that happened on the other side of the woods to a certain other Marie. Marie’s best friend Stel (Jessica Hudson) warns Pony that he better stay out of Marie’s life, which the audience learns is because she also secretly pines for Marie. Looking out for Pony’s well-being is Cav (Janet Ulrich Brooks), an old-school lesbian and the only scientist in town. And while Pony is courting Marie, Heath (Matthew Sherbach) is searching for Pony, laden with family secrets.

Pony is clearly inspired by Woyzeck, but the play goes off on Oswald’s own tangents. Instead of force-feeding peas, Cav subjects Pony to psychological evaluations. Marie ponders how a man can reach the desperation needed to kill the one thing in the world he loves—pretty much the question Buchner sets out to answer in his play. And Pony, like the other titular character, finds himself battered by society. Unfortunately, Oswald is unable to tie these themes together and the play feels more like a musing on the original than its own entity. Pony has difficulty finding a job and is devastated when he finds himself robbed, but he never reaches the utter anguish of Woyzeck. The romance between Pony and Marie is budding, not self-destructing. Oswald doesn’t reach the lower-class rage of Buchner and Pony doesn’t have its inspiration’s weight. By the end, the plot unravels into confusion. The final scene is especially tepid.

The brilliant, fully-committed cast, however, does what they can to keep the story alive. Brooks grabs the audience attention and pulls us along wherever she goes. Simpkins carries the show well, bursting with anger or sheepishly talking to Marie, whatever the script requires. Sherbach, besides some overuse of his hands, adds a great, humorous balance to the mix.

Many of the modern adaptations of Woyzeck, like Collaboraction’s Guinea Pig Solo, focus on the militaristic aspects of the play. About Face takes a different route with taking a hard look at the personal side. But without Metzgar’s awesome cast, the play would fall apart.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Matthew Sherbach (Heath) and Kelli Simpkins (Pony) in About Face Theatre’s production of PONY by Sylvan Oswald, directed by Artistic Director Bonnie Metzgar.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

All photos by Michael Brosilow 

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REVIEW: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (Lifeline)

 

Fun for kids of all ages

 

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Lifeline Theatre presents
 
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type
  

Adapted by James E. Grote
Music by George Howe
Directed by
Shole Milos
at
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
through December 5  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I had my favorite associate reviewers with me for the Lifeline Theatre’s production of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. My niece Lexi and my nephew David are great barometers of what is funny without the filters of adulthood. Fortunately, this excellent show was a gem of comic timing and great music – even as I wear my grownup glasses.

Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  004 The story is simple and universal. Cow 1, Cow 2, Hen, and Duck want better accommodations. The cows and the hen are freezing their respective hides and feathers off in the barn. Duck is bored with the lily pad and wants to spice up his pond. The animals have a barrier in communicating with Farmer Brown and then the hilarity ensues.

Understudy Mallory Nees, who was fabulous in The Blue Shadow (our review ★★★), also at Lifeline, played Cow 1. She is the more logical of the cows and tries to find a sensible way to get through to farmer Brown. Lakhiyia Hicks plays the role of Cow 2. Her character wants to give Farmer Brown a knuckle sandwich until Hen reminds her that she doesn’t have traditional knuckles. Christina Hall plays hen with great aplomb and gleefulness. Hicks and Hall have a wonderful banter about chicken breath and cow mouth that had the audience in stitches. Yes, it’s juvenile. But it’s funny!

Ryotaro Shigeta plays the role of diplomatic Duck. Shigeta is charming and ebullient in the role. Duck has a great secret weapon in the super high definition remote control that drops from the ceiling. The remote allows us to translate cow, hen, and duck talk. It also rewinds the characters and pauses. Derek Czaplewski plays the hapless Farmer Brown who lives the sounds of the farm and is greatly disturbed when the animals become revolutionaries for warmth in the barn.

Farmer Brown makes the mistake of storing some old books and a typewriter in the barn where the animals live. Cow 2 sees that the books are by Karl Marx, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, and George Orwell. She is called to revolution and wants to get Farmer Brown off of the farm so that the animals can take over like in Orwell’s book. Cow 1 tells her to read the whole story because it might not be as great as that seems. It’s a great lesson for kids in getting the whole story and communicating so that everyone involved can understand. It’s funny on an adult level because we know how Orwell turns out. It’s funny on a kid level because Cow 2 is just funny pumping her fist in the air and declaring ‘power to the animals!’

 

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Hall’s hen is really sweet as she wonders what happens to her eggs. It is another great lesson in knowing your worth and the value of your work for children.

The musical numbers are smooth and well choreographed. The song ‘An Electric Blanket Looks Like Home’ is done in 60’s girl group style. The music is cool and the dance moves are worthy of a Supreme or Vandella.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type is from a series by author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin. It is in the series that Lifeline has continued from Dooby Dooby Moo, and Duck for President.

Illustrator Lewin was on hand to sign the books on Sunday and the cast was most accommodating in signing autographs in person. Once again, Lifeline has done a stellar job of bringing the theater experience to people of all ages. I am a firm believer that children should be exposed to the theater more than the movies. There is real magic in this production. It is the magic that allows a child’s mind to roam in  imagination rather than be stifled and homogenized by impossible special effects. Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  004Lexi and David gave it their definite seal of approval. This miracle came in the form of one full hour of rapt focus and laughter.

Of course it should be said that David has deemed me the best auntie in the world. That is a comment that one doesn’t hear often and it isn’t doled out all willy-nilly.

They loved the brightly colored set, the great music, and dancing. Most of all, they love the theater experience in our own backyard of Rogers Park. It is a cool thing to read about something on your oat O’s box and then to see it live. Kudos to Lifeline for an amazing and fun show that shows the value of follow-through, problem solving, and cooperation. The play is an hour long and will hold your child’s attention as well as yours. I recommend this play even if you don’t have a grade school kid to take along. The double entendre is more than worthy for a laugh and memories of urban studies or political science classes. Come on and raise a hoof for a warm barn and bovine rights!

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

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Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type runs on Saturdays at 1:00pm and Sundays at 11am and 1pm through December 4th at Lifeline Theatre. The theatre is located at 6912 N. Glenwood in Rogers Park USA. Visit www.lifelinetheatre.com for more information. Moo!

 

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Theater Thursday: “The Hollow Lands” at Steep Theatre

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Thursday, June 25

The Hollow Lands
by Howard Korder
Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn Ave.

Come to Steep Theatre before the show to enjoy a wine and cheese reception and stay afterwards to meet the cast, director, and designers and partake in the Opening Night celebration. Steep’s special blend of grit, edge, and ensemble work comes to life in this story about America’s early pioneers. Jim, a young Irish immigrant, arrives in New York in 1815 with dreams of boundless freedom, legendary profits, and unseen kingdoms. It is the cost of his 40 year pursuit that becomes more than he imagined. The Hollow Lands, directed by Jonathan Berry, traces a nation’s journey towards its Manifest Destiny and the trail it leaves behind.

Event begins at 7 p.m. Show begins at 8 p.m.
TICKETS ONLY $25
For reservations call 312.458.0722 and mention "Theater Thursdays."

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