REVIEW: Aiming for Sainthood (Victory Gardens)

 

The Good Girl

 

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Victory Gardens Fresh-Squeezed presents
  
Aiming for Sainthood
   
Written and performed by Arlene Malinowski
Directed by Will Rogers
Richard Christiansen Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
through September 26  |  tickets: $20  |  more info 

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Arlene Malinowski’s comic one-act monologue, Aiming for Sainthood, is about being an adult child of deaf parents, right in the middle of her mother’s struggle against cancer. Or, is she more a childlike adult—for Arlene’s vacation trip to her parents’ home in New Jersey alters radically after the out-of-the-blue discovery that Mom has cancer. From that point on everything Arlene attempts as damage control throws her back into the childhood state she knew before leaving home. Onstage at Victory Gardens’s Richard Christiansen Theater for only six performances, Malinowski’s warm and witty tale about managing the unmanageable in the face of mortality is sure to delight audiences familiar with the separate cultures and experiences created by deafness or other lifelong disabilities.

Aiming for Sainthood's Arlene Malinowski - with horns!Malinowski’s storytelling performance is funny and outgoing. Will Rogers direction keeps the pace moving around Nick Seiben’s sensible and subtly intriguing set. “I’m all about getting it done,” says Arlene, taking responsibility for Mom’s care, little suspecting her family’s battle with cancer will be a long and draining one that demands immense personal sacrifice from her. Malinowski lightens that struggle with accounts of running into various characters at the hospital, recollections of her thoroughly Catholic childhood, and the recognizable facets of Jersey culture. There’s Butch, the uber-practical gay male nurse in salmon-colored scrubs and Ruby, one of the hospital’s “regulars” who keeps passing out free coupons to the cafeteria. Finally, there’s Arlene’s Dad, who has a very poetic deaf way of telling people they’re stupid, and her sister, Diana, who gets off easy by being the perpetual baby of the family.

Malinowski’s abilities to humorously relate her tale need no critical coaching from the sidelines—a fact pounded home to me by the audience’s delighted response to her script and well-timed performance. From my own chair, I found her handling of these themes a little on the lite side. Think Erma Bombeck meets The Savages meets Late Night Catechism—nice is the sentiment that overwhelms Aiming for Sainthood. If nice and lite is how you like humor about facing down mortality, shouldering the burdens of caretaking, crises of faith and dealing with less-than-responsible siblings, this is your show. All those looking for darker, weightier humor will need to go elsewhere.

I, for one, was almost palpably relieved once Malinowski started acknowledging her propensity for self-neglect in her self-martyrdom. “My head throbs and I smell like a food court,” she says, once Mom’s stay in the hospital has been extended and extended. Taking on all the responsibility has reduced her to junk food, sweatpants and day time television. “I’ll take Perfect Daughters for a thousand, Alex,” she cracks, still thinking her return home to her husband in Los Angeles is imminent.

Malinowski’s humor exists to keep the darkness at bay. Since Arlene is capable of having her own miraculous revelations and since Mom ultimately survives cancer, why not? I left the theater feeling this play’s lightness, but not much depth. However, looking into the contented and moved faces of audience members as they were leaving, I realized that there are disparate ways to deal with resentment and pain. Whatever works.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
  

The production runs September 20-26, 2010, in the in the Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

 

 

 

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REVIEW: The Last Cargo Cult (Victory Gardens)

Witty, expressive storyteller goes tribal

 

 
Victory Gardens Freshly Squeezed Series presents
 
The Last Cargo Cult
 
Written and performed by Mike Daisey
Directed by
Jean Michele Gregory
at the
Richard Christiansen Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru May 9th  | tickets: $25  |  more info

By Katy Walsh

Sleeping with a pig, shopping at Ikea, fermented yam paste, $40 public beaches, its primitive tales from the South Pacific spliced up with pure Americana. Victory Gardens Freshly Squeezed Series presents

The Last Cargo Cult runs for a limited engagement at the Richard Christiansen Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln. Master storyteller Mike Daisey uses his personal memoirs to illustrate America’s money paradox. According to Wikipedia, the goddess of all information, “a cargo cult is a type of religious practice that may appear in traditional  tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically advanced cultures.” During World War II, the U.S. military set up strategic bases on several South cargocult3Pacific islands. At the conclusion of the war, the G.I. Joes go but the awakening to technology and commerce remains. (Think of Bali Ha’i islanders singing, "I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair.”) Daisey relates his recent journey to an exotic South Pacific Island that worships America. He intertwines everyday experiences of a first world inhabitant. The Last Cargo Cult is a one-man comedic deconstruction of the U.S. economic foundation that crumbled.

Daisey is a witty and expressive storyteller. As the writer, his word choices create vivid illustrations. He describes the islanders as “if the French and English had sex and the baby was raised by sailors in the 1940’s.” Now, that’s a descriptor. He cloaks poignant points within hilarious absurdity. Upon arrival each audience member receives a bill of currency, ranging from $1 to $100. Daisey uses the random distribution to relate self-validation connected to money. With arms flailing, eyes bulging and red faced, Daisey is outstanding in nailing the ludicrous lives of Americans and their plethora of ‘awesome shit.’ He transitions to the unexpected response in the story with a well-placed uttering of the word ‘awkward.’ Daisey’s disenchantment with the American cargocult financial industry and the unfortunate infiltration of American culture on what use to be an exotic island is pure schadenfreude. He finds the comedy in the farce and delivers it with dark, delicious satisfaction.

The running time is two hours and ten minutes. Awkward… It’s too long! It’s like if Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert had a love child and that love child was paid by the word commentating on the travel channel. Even the strongest storyteller benefits from editing. If the length is part of the money paradox theme, I got my money’s worth easily at the half-way point. Seat F 109 didn’t even make it that far before she started dozing off and she received $50 to my $1 in the commerce audience activity. Every time Daisey turned over a legal sheet of notes, I silently prayed, “be the bottom of the pile.” Although I have a healthy attention span, I have American impatience limitations. I refused to go on a second date with a monologuer. And after the hour and a half, he at least bought my dinner. Mike, tack on another forty minutes of my undivided attention and I’m going to expect more than dinner out of our encounter.

 
 
Rating: ★★½
 
 

cargocult

Running Time: Two hours and ten minutes

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