REVIEW: Closure (Fringeelement Entertainment)

Anger management amongst friends

 

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Fringeelement Entertainment presents
  
Closure
   
Written by Jake Perry
Directed by Errol McClendon
at
The Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western (map)
through September 26  |  tickets: $15  |  more info 

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Closure tells the story of three friends brought together after five years since the mysterious death of their mutual friend, Maria. Catherine, Dennis and Matt fall back into each other’s lives over a Labor Day weekend as they relive memories, both joyous and painful, and look for a way to deal with the death of Maria and find closure with this whole chapter of their lives.

Performed in the Viaduct Theater’s black box performance space, the set of Closure consists of a classic cabin scene designed by Joseph Budka. Walls are decked with wood paneling, a couch sits center stage and various chairs, photos and books take up the rest of the space. The set gives off a definitive country feel with its simple, yet cozy style. The lighting, designed by Claire Sangster, adds warmth to the space with delicate pink lights illuminating the space.

Closure - Fringeelement Entertainment Chicago The show opens on Catherine (Sarah Brooks) entering the cabin and looking around at old photos. She’s followed by Dennis (Austin Talley), who arrives a few minutes after she does. Talley is immediately a strong force on stage, booming with energy as he enters. Both his actions and his words are lively and animated, and it’s clear that’s he’s very comfortable with his character. Brooks, on the other hand, comes off stiff in the beginning, slightly unsure of her movements, but eventually opens up when she and Talley begin to converse. Talley and Brooks have a strange chemistry between them that never really clicks. It’s a challenge to imagine they were once good friends reuniting.

Dennis and Catherine reminisce and discuss Maria’s death. Catherine then finds out that she was lured to the cabin under false pretenses. Dennis – claiming that Matt, Catherine’s ex-boyfriend, invited them – convinced her to come. Catherine threatens to leave just as Matt (Jake Perry) arrives. Taken aback, Matt questions why his old friends are suddenly in his private cabin. Perry, who is also the show’s writer, has effortlessness with Matt. An autobiographical character it seems in many ways, Perry easily fits into Matt’s skin and fully brings him to life.

Talley and Perry have a better chemistry on stage. Playing off each other’s lines and body movements, these two men are fun to watch together; it’s not a leap to assume they are old buddies. Matt and Dennis fall back into a pattern shared in years before. Brooks also has better chemistry with Perry, and it’s more believable that they used to date.

Perry’s play is generally well-written. Throughout Closure, there are many insightful lines and monologues, causing not only the actors to consider the words being spoken but the audience as well. That being said, in Act I, there is a lot of unnecessary swearing written into the scenes to demonstrate anger. It’s clear by the acting that these characters have pent up anger at both Maria’s death and at each other. The overused expletives detract at times from the action taking place and become a nuisance. The swearing-makes-me-sound-pissed-off is tempered in Act II, and scenes run much smoother. Since this is a show based on anger and loss, a bit more comic relief would be welcome to help ease the audience after particularly dramatic scenes. Additionally, the character’s back-stories are minimally told, and more foundation is needed – Dennis’ story in particular. He is the loosest cannon, with a crazy, wild anger running through him, and I found myself wondering exactly where the roots of that anger come from.

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Whereas the first act drags a bit and at times feels forced, the second acts picks up speed as the actor’s settle more comfortably into their characters. Talley offers up terrific body language as he unleashes his rage on Matt and Catherine. In turn, Perry displays true, raw emotions, allowing the audience to see how damaged Matt is as a human being. Of the three, Catherine could be pushed further. Brooks is talented and surely has the ability to take her character further and really delve into the emotions that drive Catherine to behave and speak in the manner she does.

Closure’s ending offers some unexpected, yet very welcome twists. Although their lives are not sewn up as the production comes to a close, what occurs is quite appropriate and beautifully done.

   
  
Rating: ★★½
   
   

Closure plays at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave. Chicago, IL, Thursdays to Sundays through September 26. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased through the Viaduct’s Web site.


Production Personnel

Playwright: Jake Perry

Director: Errol McClendon
Light Design: Claire Sangster
Set Design: Joseph Budka

Featuring: Sarah Brook, Austin Talley and Jake Perry

   
   

REVIEW: Point Break Live! (New Rock Theater)

Gnarly to the max!


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New Rock Theater presents
Point Break Live!
Adapted by Jaime Keeling and Jamie Hook
directed by
Eve Hars
at New Rock Theatre, 3931 N. Elston
(map)
through June 26  | tickets: $25-$30  |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

pointbreak7I had one question going into New Rock Theater’s farcical, free-for-all production, Point Break Live!—would it be funnier than the original movie starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze?

The answer: indubitably! Directed by Eve Hars, the show is as rad as all its advertising portends. Unintentional humor in Kathryn Bigelow’s surfer movie results from the usual, heavy-handed, Hollywood pandering to its 18-35 male demographic.  Plus, while Bigelow’s direction may be slick and the script slightly wry, the film still makes the typical action movie mistake of taking itself too seriously. But Point Break’s shortcomings, for live adaptation creator Jaime Keeling, are all gold to be mined for Point Break Live! Add a rockin’ cast and crew, plus the chance for an audience member to play Reeves’ role as Johnny Utah in this teenage wet dream of a show, and you’ve got a comic formula that accounts for sold-out success in Seattle, Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Receiving a survival kit and auditioning a few bold audience members to take on “the spirit of Keanu” warms up the crowd before the evening’s performance. Acting is not a prerequisite for the starring role, since the one playing Johnny Utah will read directly from cue cards–the method that “really catches the essential rawness of Keanu Reeves’ acting style.” The night I viewed the show, Max from the Mercantile Exchange put special gusto into lines like, “Are we gonna jump or jerk off?” indicating either familiarity with the original movie or a particular fascination with jerking off.

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In any case, an impeccable comic cast backs up the star player and they clearly know what they are about. Matthew Peck’s grooved out and devil-may-care portrayal of Bodhi, the ringleader of the surfers/bank robbers (played by Patrick Swayze in the movie), belies his Shakespearean training at the British American Drama Academy in London. It’s an interpretation far too cool for Shakespeare, dude. His gang Roach (Nathanael Card), Grommet (Derek Elstro), and Nathanial (Cody Evans) provide most of the manic energy of the production, which is absolutely rife with hetero-friendly homoeroticism.

What a pleasure to see two old Chicago theater pros like Errol McLendon, who plays Pappas, and Greg Callozzo, taking on FBI chief Harp–a role that received its own  comic twist in the original from John C. McGinley . McGinley may be more familiar to audiences now as Dr. Perry pointbreak1Cox on the TV series “Scrubs.” Callozzo takes the role further than McGinley by portraying Harp as the kind of cross-dressing FBI chief that would make J. Edgar Hoover nervous with excitement. A bulldog in a feathered boa, Callozzo is especially funny when he cracks himself up in his rabidly masculinist exchanges with McLendon.

Make no mistake, Point Break Live! is played for all its over-the-top laughs. However, given our culture’s obsession with surfer dudes as the no-holds-barred boys of endless summer—an obsession consciously created and fueled by Hollywood—Point Break Live! ends up plumbing depths to the American male psyche in ways that Freud never could or would. He wouldn’t either because he’d have too much education or taste, or because his own historical and social reality would never allow him to be this extreme. The intellectual way I dissect it is boring, but the way Hars’ cast enacts it is gnarly to the max.

With a death wish that just won’t die, Point Break Live! boyishly, enthusiastically, and egregiously exaggerates all the action movie clichés and man-crush stupidity of the original movie. You don’t need a college diploma to love it. A high school diploma is, well, just generally a good idea for everyone.

Rating: ★★★

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Review: Village Players’ “You Can’t Take It With You”

You Can't Take It With You

 Village Players Theater presents

You Can’t Take It With You

by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
directed by Jack Hickey
runs through Nov. 22 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

take-it-with-you During hard times, people seek the warmth of the well-known, the solace of childhood memory and happier days. In dining, that means comfort food. The stage equivalent — comfort theater, if you will — arises in low-risk revivals.

So, this season has seen Animal Crackers at the Goodman Theatre, a revival of a 1928 Marx Brothers comedy.  Porchlight Theatre did The Fantasticks, that long-running off-Broadway favorite. Marriott Theatre revived Hairspray, a 2002 Broadway hit based on a 1988 cult film set in 1962. And so on.

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart‘s quirky You Can’t Take It With You needs no economic crisis to be worth a remount. Although this 1937 Pulitzer Prize winner certainly shows its origins in the Great Depression, You Can’t Take It With You is one of the funniest and most endearing plays of the 20th century. The New York Times’ Brooks Atkinson called the original production "tickling fun," and so it remains.

Everyone should know this play. If you’ve never seen it, take advantage of Village Players‘ fine production in Oak Park.

A little acquaintance with 1930s popular history will enrich your experience, but it’s by no means required. Some understanding of the times in which the play was written may be needed to surmount 21st-century sensibilities, though for its period, You Can’t Take It With You seems quite progressive.

The farce follows the eccentric Sycamore family. Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (Paul Tinsley), the retired patriarch, has spent 35 years going to college commencements, collecting snakes and avoiding income tax.

His daughter, Penelope (Judith Laughlin), has spent the past eight years engaged in writing never-finished plays. Penny’s husband, Paul Sycamore (Errol McLendon), manufactures fireworks in the basement with help from the family’s lodger, Mr. DePinna (Eric Cowgill). Housekeeper Rheba (Elana Elyce), serves up dinners of corn flakes, watermelon and mystery meat and entertains her unemployed boyfriend, Donald (Ronaldo Coxon), overnight.

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Granddaughter Essie (Zoe Palko) makes candies for sale but spends every spare moment practicing, unsuccessfully, to be a ballerina. As her boisterous Russian dance teacher, Boris Kolenkhov (Jeff McVann), puts it, "She stinks." Essie’s husband, Ed Carmichael (Josh Wintersteen), prints up unlikely circulars on a hobby letterpress and plays the xylophone.

The most conventional member of the clan, granddaughter Alice (Jhenai Mootz), a secretary, is in love with her boss’s son, Tony Kirby (Bryan Wakefield), though she fears her beloved but trying family won’t pass muster with his stuffy, Wall Street father (James Turano) and snobbish socialite mother (Katherine Keberlein). Also drifting through the scenes are an irritated IRS investigator (Michael M. Jones), a couple of G-men (Jones and Anthony Collaro), a drunken actress and the Russian Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (Courtney Boxwell).

They don’t write plays like this one anymore.

Village Players’ whole cast and crew merit kudos for this nicely presented ensemble piece. Director Jack Hickey paces his actors well, keeping things moving and the comedy coming. As Grandpa, Tinsley is perhaps overly laconic, but Laughlin does an especially sweet job as Penny, and Palko is wonderfully zany as Essie. Coxon offers some rare comic turns as Donald, as well.

Ricky Lurie‘s effective period costumes deserve mention, too, particularly Essie’s absurd ballet bloomers.

It’s tickling fun!

Rating: «««

 

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Review: Red Tape’s "Enemy of the People"

Enemy of the People
Red Tape Theatre

by Barry Eitel

In our age of Brita filters, it can be easy to take the quality of our water for granted. We trust that what comes out of our taps is safe, but that sometimes isn’t so, as recent problems uncovered in Crestwood, Illinois prove.

This situation, where authorities found that citizens were using water from a long-contaminated well, links Red Tape Theatre’s new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, directed by James Palmer, to extremely current events. Ensemble member Robert Oakes moved his version of Ibsen’s classic story of individual vs. the mob from a coastal Norwegian hamlet to a modern American town. Ibsen’s basic plot works very well in a contemporary context; supposedly, Jaws is also based on the play, but with a huge shark lurking in the water rather than pollutants. Red Tape’s production, on the other hand, is plagued by disconnected performances aggravated by Oates’ clunky dialogue.

enemyofpeople2Similar to Ibsen’s Victorian-era original, this Enemy of the People focuses on the problems caused by a new spa-resort built in the rural community of Cherokee. Dr. Tammy Stockman (Courtney Bennett), one of the original supporters of the spa, finds that the pipes could be tainting the community’s water. She quickly finds that her expensive solution is not what those in charge want to hear. And as she pushes to make her report public, she begins to realize that she might be alone in her struggle to renovate the source of millions of tourism dollars for the community.

Oates’ adaptation has a certain hillbilly charm—characters discuss the merits of tofu dogs and Snuggies (probably the debut of the jacket/blanket hybrid in dramatic literature). The small town feel is furthered by costume designers Jennifer Tillery and Alycia Barohn, who dress the characters in plenty of flannel, trucker hats, and fishing-related t-shirts. The simple Americana of the production is probably its most redeeming aspect, making the characters and story easy to relate to.

Tammy and Peter However, Stockman’s journey from rebellious whistleblower to town outcast is hard to navigate. Whenever the character becomes passionate, Bennett pushes a little too hard and Stockman becomes over-the-top. It’s a shame, because Bennett can be very charismatic when she’s chilling in a Snuggie with her friends. Oates’ language doesn’t help, either, sometimes throwing out deep, metaphysical arguments about the nature of truth that just don’t gel right with the rest of the dialogue. Switching Stockman’s gender (Ibsen cast the character as a man) is an interesting choice, but the text is clumsy in exploring the gender dynamic. The relationship between Tammy and her brother/mayor of Cherokee, Peter Stockman (Robert Lynch), is also underdeveloped and misses a true sibling connection between the two.

Peter and Greg The biggest problem with the production, though, is that often the actors don’t seem to be really listening to each other. The worst offender is Lynch, who appears to have a very rehearsed and fixed performance. Lynch isn’t alone, though; April Pletcher Taylor as Connie, the abrasive leader of the Small Business Association, and Nicholas Combs as Greg Hovstad, editor of a liberal news website, have similar issues. Not everyone on stage is out-of-touch; Errol McLendon’s portrayal of the truck-driving Dan Horster is simple yet captivating and Vic May is moving as Tammy’s husband Cliff.

The production benefits from Palmer’s interesting environmental staging that cycles the audience through a few locations, including making them participants in a high-stakes town meeting. Palmer is aided by lighting designer Kyle Land’s huge projections which create some interesting environments. Weak spots in Oates’ text can’t be avoided, though, and the play becomes self-indulgent and borderline preachy. By attempting to instill high ideals to the audience, the production becomes ungrounded.

Rating: «½

Related articles:Red Tape’s blog: Meet the cast of “Enemy”