REVIEW: The Scarecrow (Theatre-Hikes)

              
      

Nebulous ‘Scarecrow’ comes to life in historic location

 

 

Theatre-Hikes - The Scarecrow 2

   
Theatre-Hikes presents
   
The Scarecrow
   
Written by Percy Mackaye
Directed by
Frank Farrell
at the
Pullman Factory, 11057 S. Cottage Grove (map)
through November 14  |  tickets: $10-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Theatre-Hikes takes a break from its normal outdoor theatre productions to bring the action (basically) indoors with Percy Mackaye’s The Scarecrow. Written in 1908, The Scarecrow is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Feathertop”, but expands the tale and is not to be taken as a dramatization of the short story.

The setting for The Scarecrow is an abandoned warehouse in the Pullman Historic District. It’s got a cool, loft vibe with a bit of creepiness for added natural effect. The set itself resembles an old blacksmith’s barn with tools and equipment scattered about, and straw covers the floor. The only downside to the warehouse usage is that there’s a distinct echo, so when the actors speak loudly or yell it’s difficult to understand them.

Theatre-Hikes - The Scarecrow 1Set in seventeenth century Massachusetts, The Scarecrow opens on Goody Rickby (Joni Arredia) working in the blacksmith shop, creating a scarecrow for her cornfields. Arredia initially seems too over-the-top with her performance but as she eases into her character she becomes interesting with a depth that’s clear. You can see that she’s developed a backstory for her character because the emotions come out in her eyes. As Goody Rickby works, she converses with Dickon (Drew Patrick) who is also the devil. Patrick is entertaining and clever in his characterization with an eerie quality that stays with him throughout the production.

Dickon has taught Goody Rickby witchcraft after she has an affair with the town’s justice and he abandons her, causing their child to die due to lack of medical care. Justice Gilead Merton’s niece, Rachel (Athanasia Sawicz) is fascinated by witchcraft and purchases a “mirror of truth” from Rickby. Sawicz offers a somewhat lackluster performance and it’s hard to decipher what her intentions are for her character. She’s rather meek for someone who’s the niece of a prominent town figure.

After Rachel leaves, Rickby and Dickon devise a plan of revenge against Justice Merton. Together, they bring the scarecrow to life to be Rickby’s son and woo Rachel away from her current betrothed, Richard Talbot (Chris Yearwood). The scarecrow, whom they’ve named Lord Ravensbane (Bill Zimmerman), comes to life much like Pinocchio does in the fairy tale, finding his legs and voice to pass as a real man. Zimmerman brings a touchingly naïve charm to Lord Ravensbane, with an adopted stutter and sweet demeanor. He’s eager to please and ready to do what he’s told.

Theatre-Hikes - The Scarecrow 3With Dickon as his tutor, Lord Ravensbane enters the Merton home with every intention, he is told, of winning Rachel for himself. Judge Merton (Marty Couch) plays the justice well enough but seems a bit nervous. The justice is unhappy with his new houseguests, but when Dickon reveals himself as the devil to Merton, Merton realizes he must comply. Rachel develops a crush on Lord Ravensbane and he feels the same way. He becomes enamored of her and she becomes torn between him and Talbot. Although she is supposed to be wrought with emotion, Sawicz doesn’t emit much emotion through her body language and it often feels more like she’s reciting lines she’s memorized rather than that she’s embodied fully the character of Rachel.

Dickon has Merton throw a party in Lord Ravensbane’s honor and at this party, Zimmerman’s Ravensbane proves to be both charismatic and regal, as if her were a real lord. Zimmerman delivers stunning monologues that play to the emotions of his character and the audience. Patrick’s Dickon makes intentional and superb character choices, both with his words and his actions. He is his character through and through.

The Scarecrow proves to be in interesting production with some ups and downs, but it does offer some truly wonderful performances.

    
 
Rating: ★★½   
   
   

The Scarecrow plays through November 14 at the historic Pullman Factory, 11057 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by emailing theatrehikes@gmail.com or call 773-293-1358.The Scarecrow - Theatre-Hikes

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REVIEW: Our Town (Theatre-Hikes)

Strong ensemble brings Grover’s Corners to life

 

rebecca, george & emily 25

   
Theatre-Hikes presents
   
Our Town
  
Written by Thornton Wilder
Directed by
Frank Farrell
at
The Pullman Historic Museum and Morton Arboretum
through September 26  |  tickets: $13-$19  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Our Town, written by Thornton Wilder, offers a glimpse into the daily lives of average Americans in small town New Hampshire. Set from 1901 to 1913, this play takes the audience on a journey of growth and discovery. Focused mainly on the characters of George Gibbs and Emily Webb, Our Town depicts life typical of how things were at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Pullman Historic Museum provides the backdrop for Theatre-Hikes’ Our Town, creating a feeling of being transported back to the early 1900s. (Note: future performances will occur at the Morton Arboretum). Grover’s Corners, NH, the location of Our Town, is brought to life through this use of this space. Being outdoors however, the cast had to compete with airplanes overhead, car alarms and some rather jubilant church music wafting through the air. The cast succeeds, however, in distracting the  audience from such deterrents with their george & emily A 50 strong, captivating performances. Each scene has very minimal set pieces – only six stools. The rest of the action and props are pantomimed. The cast does a good job acting out different experiences without the use of physical props, allowing for the story to really shine through.

Our Town opens on a typical day in Grover’s Corners with the actions narrated by the stage manager (Dan Scurek). Our Town is a meta-theatrical play that announces it’s a play, breaking through the fourth wall to directly address the audience. Scurek’s stage manager/narrator jumps right into character from his first line. He’s incredibly personable and animated with both his words and his actions, creating a character that one looks forward to hearing from. The narrator introduces the rest of the characters in act one, “the Daily Life,” including Mrs. Gibbs (Mary Nigohosian) and Mrs. Webb (Jeanne Scurek). Nigohosian clearly fleshed out her character with a relatable demeanor. She is entertaining to watch as she neatly gets her family ready for the morning – making breakfast and attending to her husband and children. She proves to be the stronger of the two women, set against J. Scurek. Mrs. Webb is, of course, a proper woman, but Scurek plays her a bit too stiffly. She overacts at times, causing the character to feel forced.

The audience is also introduced to young George Gibbs (BJ Engelhardt) and Emily Webb (Courtney Payne). Interacting through typical conversations of homework and baseball, Engelhardt and Payne offer an innocent and sweetly awkward portrayal of two young people discovering their feelings for one another. The first act also introduces the two standout supporting roles of Professor/Constable (Kevin Lambert) and Simon Stimson (Dan Toot). Although these are smaller roles, the actors take them to heart and really make them come to life. Lambert is amusing and proves to be a strong presence while on stage. Similarly, Toot’s character, the choir organist and town drunk, is quite comical, sometimes stealing the spotlight when he’s on.

Act two, “Love and Marriage,” offers a glimpse further into the relationship between Emily and George. There’s a clear chemistry between the two actors, and as the second act progresses, the characters grow and come truly to life. “Love and Marriage” runs a bit quicker than act one, which slightly drags in the beginning. It’s lovely to see George and Emily’s relationship grow; it’s evident that both Engelhardt and Payne have an understanding of their character’s psyche and the reasoning behind their actions and words. Act two concludes with their marriage and all the townsfolk gathering to wish them well.

george, mr. webb stg mang, george, emily, 3 ladies

Our Town concludes with act three, “Death and Eternity.” The townsfolk have gathered in the cemetery to attend the funeral of one of their own. The tone shifts here from light and happy to stark and contemplative. Payne’s character arch becomes even greater as she attempts to deal with the situation at hand, and real, raw emotions come through, connecting her even further to the audience. Mrs. Gibbs proves to be a comforting presence in this time of sorrow, and Nigohosian’s gentle character is a relief for both the characters and the audience members.

Overall, Our Town is a solid show. The acting is generally on point, and the two-and-a-half hours go by quickly. There is quality direction by Frank Farrell, which allows each actor the confidence to move about without fumbling, and the costuming by Melissa Snyder adds another layer to the show. Each outfit is appropriate to both the characterization and the time frame of Our Town, which helps to shape the story.

(Side note: Act three even allowed for a bit of audience interaction when audience member Dale Gallian was asked to step in a fill a small role of Farmer McCarthy.)

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Our Town plays at the Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53 in Lisle, IL. The show runs on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 pm through September 26. Tickets are $13 to $19 and can be purchased at www.mortonarb.org or by calling (630) 725-2066.

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REVIEW: “Bright Star: The Love Story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne”

A poetic play in a perfect setting

John & Fanny B

North Lakeside Players present:

Bright Star: The Love Story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne

Written and directed by Frank Farrell
at
North Lakeside Cultural Center in Edgewater.
Through Dec. 20 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Among the best things about Chicago’s theater scene are wonderful chances to see productions close-up in intimate and sometimes non-traditional settings. Such venues really bridge the gap between audiences and performers. As I overheard a woman say at North Lakeside Players’ charming world premiere, Bright Star: "I felt like I was part of the play."

The Players perform in the historic Gunder Mansion in Edgewater. Built in 1914, reportedly as the lakefront home of an early silent-movie mogul, the house was renovated and opened in 1989 as the North Lakeside Cultural Center.

mrs B & john john & fanny a 12.6.09

The building can accommodate more, but North Lakeside Players Artistic Director Frank Farrell prefers to limit audiences to 20, in part because he likes to stage scenes throughout the house, moving watchers from room to room. Farrell’s Bright Star shifts from the wood-paneled front parlor to the leaded-glass-flanked dining room to a second-floor bedroom, so viewers get something of a house tour along with the play. (Farrell is known for getting his audiences on the move. He’s also the man behind Theater-Hikes, performed during 2-mile walks, and a new project involving bicycle treks.)

North Lakeside Cultural Center forms an ideal setting for historical plays, like "Bright Star," which covers 1818 to 1821, the final years of the short life of British Romantic poet John Keats. Written in 2001, Farrell’s "Bright Star" is based on the 1968 historical novel of the same name by Joan Rees, which was in turn named for Keats’ sonnet, said to have written to his beloved, Fanny Brawne:

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendor hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors —
No — yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever — or else swoon to death.

—John Keats

You need not be a student of literature to appreciate this sad, true love story, also the subject of a recent film by Jane Campion. Keats, 23, and Brawne, 18, met in Hampstead in 1818, and gradually fell in love. Then, as now, life was not easy for self-employed writers — particularly unsuccessful, critically reviled poets — and the couple could not afford to marry. Both her people and his discouraged the relationship. Then, Keats’ health began to fail.

Playwright Farrell weaves wonderful lines, both his own and quotations from Keats, into a compact script. He pares the poetry to a minimum, keeping things moving — aJohn_Keats_by_William_Hiltonlthough I would gladly have heard more of Joe Ciresi’s beautifully expressive recitations.

Ciresi makes a handsome, very boyish Keats (though topped with a Struwwelpeter wig whose historical accuracy appears a little dubious). When it comes to dialogue, however, his performance sometimes seems too restrained.

Actor and script keep the love scenes decorous, as perhaps they really were. Yet surely the intense and stormy Keats who poured his heart into famous love letters with lines like, "Love is my religion — I could die for that — I could die for you" and "You must be mine to die upon the rack if I want you," should display more passion? We need some sizzle, especially between Keats and his darling.

Pretty Nicole Richwalsky brings the right coquettishness and emotion to the young and not very deep Fanny, while Christina Thodos plays her widowed mother with matter-of-fact briskness, delightful in scenes such as one quizzing the young poet on his prospects. Christina Irwin is nicely motherly as the busybody neighbor, Mrs. Dilke, and Michael Mercier doubles proficiently as Keats’ dying brother, Tom, and his friend Charles Brown. Frank R. Sjodin and Nada Latoya Steier capably play a variety of supporting roles.

The playwright knows his subject thoroughly, creating a few puzzles for audience members not so deeply grounded in Keats’ biography. For instance, there’s a rather mystifying scene with Mrs. Isabella Jones (Steier), who needs a better introduction (Keats may or may not have had an affair with her); and glancing references to bad reviews don’t adequately prepare us for an unneeded, anticlimactic monologue damning Keats’ literary critics for the poet’s death.

Quibbles aside, "Bright Star" is a lovely play in a lovely setting, well worth the modest ticket price.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Note: The production is not wheelchair accessible. Paid parking is available across the street; parking passes must be reserved with tickets. Possible future performances may be in February. 

fanny & john bed Photos by Frank Farrell