REVIEW: Fruit Tree Backpack (Clove Productions)

The non-art of relationships

 

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Clove Productions presents
   
Fruit Tree Backpack
   
Written by Barrie Cole
Directed by Eric Ziegenhagen
at side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through July 17th  |  tickets:  $12  |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Playwright Barrie Cole loves to play with words and conceptual themes like a child loves to play with Legos. In Fruit Tree Backpack, a tiny, taut and daffy trilogy, now onstage at side project theatre, her characters like to do the same. Clove Productions has teamed up an excellent cast and Eric Ziegenhagen’s simple direction keeps out of the way of Marisa Wegryn and Michael Kessler’s subtle and satisfying comic interaction.

“In the Middle of the Night” begins with a whacked out, out-of-the-blue project—or is it? It’s the midnight discovery of one’s partner/roommate wrapping an orange in packing tape and claiming its worthiness as a new and original piece of art. It’s the kind of thing that happens in the middle of the night—due to too much pot, too much time on one’s hands or too little sleep. When the partner declares it as a project worthy of repetition—wrapping oranges in packing tape and sending them to all her friends without explanation—then you know it’s either an idea that borders on artistic conceptual madness or is just, simply, mad.

“Intimacy” deals with a couple at the subtle heart of friction in their relationship. One believes the other has not been smoking for months, while the other reluctantly reveals, once on vacation, that he has been faking his abstinence from smoking all the while. Wegryn and Kessler successfully pull comedy from the situation for all its worth. That, or there are too many people out there who identify with this dilemma completely. But Cole’s writing quickly gets to the sulking heart of the matter. “Intimacy is such a burden, don’t you agree?” says one partner. But is the burden still worth it?

“Research” happily takes us to the netherworld of an ending relationship. I say happily because Cole’s humor never leaves deadened space in the relationship between these two characters and the cast’s teamwork to keep the scene light and resiliently firm and unflagging. One character just wants to be friends, but the other doesn’t know what that “friendship” is, what its boundaries will be, or what kind of support it will give for the future. One just wants to let it play out on its own and the other needs something graspable or definable. This is the charm of Cole’s work: even when uncertainty threatens to bring misery or instability, her characters still try to retain some kind of upper hand through the use of language. It’s inventive and loaded with emotional meaning, yet never overplayed by the actors. They are just two people breaking up, that’s all and, for all that, the world is not ending for them or for us.

      
      
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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ATC celebrates 25th Anniversary with SILVER PROJECT

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American Theater Company will be presenting their first installment of the company’s 25th Anniversary celebration, The Silver Project, which will include world premiere plays by playwrights Steven Belber, Itamar Moses, Yussef El Guindi, Stephen Karam and Brian Tucker. The first Silver Project presentation will take place at American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron Street, Chicago on Monday, February 8th at 7:30 p.m.  (more info)

A little background

To celebrate the company’s 25th Anniversary, Artistic Director PJ Paparelli asked over 30 playwrights across the country to choose a year between 1985 and 2010 and write a short play that explores the company’s mission: “what does it mean to be an American?Directed and performed by over 50 Chicago artists, the plays will be presented in five parts throughout the year and as a complete cycle during the National Theatre Communications Group Conference June 16-20, 2010 here in Chicago.

"ATC is proud to launch our Silver Project with world premieres from five of the country’s most innovative playwrights. From Rudy Guilliani’s radical clean up of New York City to a school satire sparked from the Bush/Kerry debate to collateral damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, Part I explores pivotal American events in the 00’s from five diverse perspectives," Paparelli says.

 

The Program

The program for the initial showcase on February 8th will include:

 

Year 2000:  Quality of Life, written by Steven Belber, directed by Jason W. Gerace.
   
Year 2001: There Was So Much We Were Going To Do, written by Itamar Moses, directed by Jeremy Wechsler
   
Year 2003: So Unlike Me, written by Yussef El Guindi, directed by Eric Ziegenhagen
   
Year 2004: Pee in the School by Stephen Karam, directed by Jesse Young
   
Year 2005: Famous Blue Raincoat, written by Brian Tucker, directed by Derrick Sanders

 

Playwrights’ Bios

Steve Belber Stephen Belber’s work as a playwright has been produced on Broadway and in over 25 countries. His plays include Match (Tony nomination for Frank Langella); Tape (Time Out’s Top Ten Plays 2001); McReele (Roundabout Theater); Geometry of Fire, (Rattlestick); Fault Lines (Cherry Lane) and A Small, Melodramatic Story (Labyrinth Theater Company). He was an Associate Writer on The Laramie Project (Drama Desk and Lortel nominations), and co-writer on the more recent Laramie Project Epilogue. Movies include Tape, directed by Richard Linklater; The Laramie Project (Associate Writer/Emmy Nomination for screenwriting); Drifting Elegant and Management, which he also directed, starring Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn. Currently developing screen adaptations of both Match and McReele. Television includes Rescue Me and Law and Order SVU (staff writer). He is a proud member of both Tectonic Theater Project and the Labyrinth Theater Company.

Yussef El Guindi Yussef El Guindi’s plays include Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes, (Golden Thread Productions, InterAct Theater, and Kitchen Dog Theater), Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat (Silk Road Theatre Project, Jeff Nominated), Ten Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith (Silk Road Theatre Project), Back of the Throat (Theater Schmeater), and an upcoming production of Language Rooms (Wilma Theater). His play, Ten Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith, is included in Salaam/Peace: An Anthology of Middle-Eastern-American Playwrights, published by TCG in 2009. Yussef holds an MFA from Carnegie-Mellon University and was playwright-in-residence at Duke University.

Stephen Karam Stephen Karam is the author of Speech & Debate which was produced off-broadway by Roundabout Theatre Company as the inaugural production of Roundabout Underground.  He is the co-author of columbinus (2006 Helen Hayes nomination), which ran off-broadway at New York Theatre Workshop following a co-production by Round House/Perseverance Theaters.  His latest play was commissioned by Roundabout Theatre Company and will have its world premiere in their 2010-2011 season.  Current projects:  screenplay of Speech & Debate for Overture Films and the libretto for an original chamber opera with composer Nico Muhly.

Itamar Moses 3 Itamar Moses is the author of the full-length plays Outrage, Bach At Leipzig, Celebrity Row, The Four of Us, Yellowjackets, Back Back Back, and Completeness, and various short plays and one-acts. His work has appeared Off-Broadway and at regional theatres across the U.S. and Canada. Moses holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU and has taught playwriting at Yale and NYU. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, MCC Playwrights Coalition, Naked Angels Mag 7, and is a New York Theatre Workshop Usual Suspect. He was born in Berkeley, California, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Brian Tucker is a graduate of The Juilliard School’s Playwrights Program, in New York, where he was a Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Fellow.  Tucker’s other plays include The St. James Infirmary, Sins of the Father, The Great Defeat of Coltrane Grey, and Bathing Van Gogh.  Tucker’s work in film includes Broken City, currently in development with Mandate Pictures, and an adaptation of the Korean film Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance for Warner Bros.  He resides in New York City.

 

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