Review: Among the Squirrels (The Black Ship Co.)

  
  

Goths gone wild

  
  

Morgan Christansen, Ron Quade, William Goblirsch, Kaitlyn Whitebread - Among the Squirrels - Photo by Sean Howlett.

   
The Black Ship Company presents
  
Among the Squirrels
      
Written by Eric Appleton
Directed by
Nicki Mazzocca
at
Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee (map)
through Feb 26  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Among the Squirrels is a charming, sensitive and emotionally mature new play by Eric Appleton—something I never expected see at the Gorilla Tango Theatre space, and I’m glad to be proved wrong. Of course, its production is an “import,” brought by the new and “itinerant theater company that hails from Chicago’s Bucktown,” The Black Ship Company. Black is the color, indeed. Directed by Nicki Mazzocca, Among the Squirrels traffics in the trials and tribulations of the sartorially dark denizens of Chicago’s urban Goth subculture as they contend with maintaining relationships and family at the mercy of the desperate absurdities of job-searching in a recession.

Morgan Christansen, William Goblirsch, Ron Quade - Among the Squirrels by Eric Appleton - The Black Ship Co. - Sean HowletTopher (William Goblirsch Jr.) counts off the days of his unemployment like the days of some macabre reign. However, while between jobs, television nature programming and the beneficent image of David Attenborough (Ron Quade) inspire him to turn toward the natural world, “red in tooth and claw.” He finds compelling diversion in observing his neighborhood’s squirrels, naming them with all the familiarity of Jane Goodall among the apes. His mate Vicki (Kaitlyn Whitebread) holds down the fort by working at a fashionable goth hair salon, but when she finds Topher’s joblessness wearing, Topher takes a customer service position at a big box store, regardless of his skills as an IT specialist.

Appleton’s script is clever and testifies to the wittiness of his play’s subculture. “May your life be complicated,” is Vicki’s benediction, just as equally full of terror as it is a blessing. The interview scene between Topher and the big box store manager (Morgan Christiansen in several roles) is a new classic in the way it points up the ridiculous disingenuousness that is the purview of the corporate job interview with a manager who has truly drunk the Koolaid. Meanwhile, pursuing his growing interest in nature observation stimulates a relationship with a local UIC professor, which propels Topher to new horizons just when his relationship with Vicki goes on the skids. Her posh salon goes under and, oh yeah, she is pregnant with Topher’s child.

Among the Squirrels genuinely and authentically explores the transition from wild, countercultural delayed adolescence to taking on the fierce demands of settling down and parenting. The play is almost a love letter to the influences of one’s youth that continue to mold one’s worldview long after the stage of youth has been passed. Topher and Vicki are pushed to grow without demanding that they give up themselves. Indeed, but for a little editorial trimming of overlong scenes, Appleton has constructed a mature and wise delight. The Black Ship Company’s cast makes these characters super-accessible, their handling of Appleton’s script practically a gentle, wry and no nonsense conversation with the audience about growing older/growing up in tough economic times without losing your soul. Their production is certainly worth your time, especially if you enjoy witnessing the Goth gone wild.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

William Goblirsch, Kaitlyn Whitebread - Among the Squirrels by Eric Appleton - The Black Ship Co.

William Goblirsch, Morgan Christansen - Among the Squirrels by Eric Appleton - The Black Ship Co William Goblirsch - Among the Squirrels - The Black Ship Co.

All photos by Sean Howlett.

  
  

REVIEW: The Samaritan Syndrome (Brikenbrak Theatre)

Are you a victim, a savior or both?

 

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Brikenbrak Theatre presents
 
The Samaritan Syndrome
 
by Jeremy Menekseoglu
directed by Paul Cosca
at
Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee (map)
through May 25th  tickets: $12  |  more info

reviewed by Robin Sneed

Set in the chilling world of mental asylum turned brothel for customers with a penchant to save the women residing there, The Samaritan Syndrome takes us on a journey through the post feminist landscape of relationships between women with a  pathological need to be rescued and men who are desperate to be saviors.

Jeremy Menekseoglu’s tightly written play in one act, hits hard in its description of a cycle between women who have become so victimized their knights become victims in their attempt at salvage.. Heroic efforts are transformed into pathetic trudges towards the last remnants of traditional societal roles. The exchange of manipulation Rosenberg finds in both savior and saved, the script of this trapped dynamic, whose only outlet becomes violence, is dead on. This is an entropic world in which there is a flatness that barely covers killing rage.

Directed with an even and deeply caring hand by Paul Cosca, this is an ensemble piece deftly samaritansyndromeperformed by Anthony Stamilio, April Taylor, Brooke Elbrecht, Claire Kander, Nathan Randall, Sarah Grant, and Whitney LaMora.

Anthony Stamilio as Mr. Suit, carries the lead with force, playing a man searching for a woman he has lost, trying to redeem her, failing, and ultimately giving over to an outcome that is as shocking as it is inevitable.

Saint, portrayed by Brooke Elbrecht is the woman Mr Suit has been looking for. She sits waiting for her lost love in an almost Chekhovian longing that mirrors Mr. Suit’s long search for her. Elbrecht plays this role guilelessly as the woman with a bent for positive psychology. Her stark refusal to believe Mr. Suit’s summation of the man she loves as con man, becomes an inciting force, turning Saint into a woman who unravels Mr. Suit with his own expectations of their future relationship. With this, their fates are decided.

April Taylor gives a mature and steady performance as the Night Nurse of this asylum for those still trying to find meaning in a raging fantasy of knights and damsels. She subtlety creates a character arc in the personality split between her professional self and her own heroism toward women she cannot help. Her portrayal of a woman trapped in a role from which she is trying to break free is touched with nuance and depth. She is savior and victim, emerging only once in an attempt to save the despairing Mr. Suit from himself

Nathan Randall as Charming, gives a riveting performance as a man so deeply rooted within his cycle of abuse and salvation as to become evangelistic of the dynamic he is in. He is savior to the lost Grace, played energetically by Sarah Grant. She becomes the blithe purveyor of need as commodity. Grant delivers this complicated scenario with accuracy and humor, conveying complicity in the manipulation. She digs deeply to find the emotional cycle of abuse and release with her partner in this twisted space. The scenes between Grace and Charming reflect the core of this piece. The moments in which Charming confronts Mr. Suit, demanding he cry and show enough emotion to satisfy the requirement for savior, is a brilliant development, demonstrating the way in which the culture around these relationships is built.

Original music by David Rosenberg becomes part of the ensemble, bringing aural awareness to the dark quality of this theatre experience. This is the first piece from Paul Cosca’s Brikenbrak Theatre Project, and with this production of The Samaritan Syndrome, they have put themselves on the map as ones to watch.

 
 
Rating: ★★
 
 

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Show closings – last chance to see them!

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Show Closings

“Master Harold”…and the Boys TimeLine Theatre

The Fantasticks Promethean Theatre

Jerry and Tom Idle Muse Theatre

The Legend of Ginger Bred Gorilla Tango Theatre

Monks in Trouble Apollo Theatre (Studio space)

Off the Paddy Wagon Cornservatory

Policeman’s Log Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Ring Cycle The Building Stage

Tim Miller’s Lay of the Land Victory Gardens Biograph Theater

 

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special ticket offers

Sunday is "Pay-What-You-Can" Night at Bailiwick Chicago’s Show Us Your Love! Doors open at 7:00 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Come on up to Mary’s Attic and donate what you can to see the show. Stay after with the cast/production staff for a drink and karaoke! Playing at Mary’s Attic (above Hamburger Mary’s), 5400 N. Clark St (Andersonville), Chicago. Visit www.bailiwickchicago.com

$1-2 off tickets to LiveWire Chicago Theatre’s world premiere Lower Debt by Joshua Aaron Weinstein at the Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western Ave. Join LiveWire and the Greater Chicago Food Depository in the fight against hunger by helping us collect nutritious non-perishable food items during the run of Debt (through April 4, Thu-Sat at 7:30 p.m. and Sun at 3:00 p.m.). Bring in one can and receive $1 off your ticket price; bring two or more cans and receive $2 off your ticket price. Cans collected at the door. Call the box office at 773.296.6024 to make your reservation. More at www.livewirechicago.com/lowerdebt.

       

REVIEW: Whack! (Gorilla Tango)

“Whack!” needs work to get its licks in

 

Gorilla Tango Theatre presents:

Whack! The Tonya Harding & Nancy Kerrigan Story

written and directed by Kelly Williams
thru February 25th (more info)

review by Paige Listerud

Just what is it with our culture’s renewed fascination about Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan? The current musical production on at Gorilla Tango Theatre is just the tip of the iceberg. A rock opera about their infamous 1994 Olympic rivalry premiered in Portland in 2008 and another production is scheduled for this year in Los Angeles; in 2008, then-candidate Obama told the press he would not “pull a Tonya Harding” on Hilary Clinton in the run up to the Democratic Convention; and the phrase quickly became used by Dem insiders to forecast Hilary’s options pursuing the presidential nomination.

Who would have guessed the revival of a 15 year-old, nearly forgotten struggle for Olympic gold?

On the other hand, as the opening number, “Bitches On Ice,” would suggest, there’s a certain eternal appeal to dueling women in dainty outfits. The audience wants to see a catfight between two aspiring ice princesses precisely because they’re suppose to be polite little ladies. Writer and director Kelly Williams further exploits the (presumed) class differences between Nancy and Tonya in her new show, Whack! The Tony Harding & Nancy Kerrigan Story, a Karaoke Musicalabout which much could be deconstructed.

But first, the lyricists for Whack! are some very clever people. In fact, the wittiness in the songs far outshines the dialogue, especially at the start. If there’s a rewrite in this show’s future, let it sharpen up spoken lines and leave jaunty works like “Majorsubcutaneousepiduralhematoma” well enough alone. Of course, it helps that they’ve subversively set the lyrics to the Disney movie music canon, so that shiny, happy crowd-pleasers like “Be My Guest” get transformed to “I Love Breasts”—an easy improvement over the original.

It’s the run-up to the Lillehammer Olympics. According to Whack!’s storyline, Nancy Kerrigan (Leslie Nesbitt) is nothing other than an evil skating genius, planning to use her Olympic gold victory to establish (or is that re-establish?) WASP dominance. “Mother, how would you feel if all of Asia was trying to ruin my life?” Nancy says, referring to Michele Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Oksana Baiul. Never mind that two of the above are Asian-American competitors. She’s not about to let white trash Tonya Harding (Cassandra Cushman) keep her from total white upper middle class victory. For her part, Tonya is just striving to lift herself out of the depths of her trailer park existence.

Both characters would be nothing without their mothers–Nancy’s Blind Mom, played hilariously by Carry Bain, and Tonya’s Drunk Momma (Natalie Kossar ) form the perfect pair of bookends to their emotionally deformed daughters. Kossar takes some time to warm up to her role, but once there she slays with lines like, “Make Momma a pizza,” and “Shh! You’ll scare the whiskey away.”

The same could be said of the rest of the cast, which takes some time to get there, too. One thing about rowdy, schlock musical comedies: not beginning with high energy is death to the production. Hopefully, that flaw will be rectified in the course of the run, because once fired up, the show is much funnier. Spiro Zafiropoulos, as Tonya’s ex-husband-live-in-boyfriend, Jeff Gillooly, shows the kind of professional steadiness that the rest of the conspiracy against Nancy could learn from. But he can’t bring the plot to wicked fulfillment all by himself.

As for Nesbit and Cushman, each takes the stage well alone, whether envisioning world domination or plaintively wishing to get out from under a drunken parent’s domination. But once onstage together, the sparks don’t fly equal to expectations that have been built up in the audience. Since this is a musical comedy, not a history lesson, it’s a little astonishing that more liberties aren’t taken with their exchanges. In other words, go wild, ladies. This is what we’ve paid our tickets for.

As for the class differences that Williams expounds on and exploits between Tonya and Nancy, I hope that by now most people are aware that the real Nancy Kerrigan comes from an equally blue-collar background. It’s a different tale to tell, two blue-collar girls both engaging in an aspirational struggle–rather than setting up yet another “upper class vs. blue collar” dynamic. Perhaps it all depends on where you want to get your comedy.

Rating: ★½

Chicago Theater Openings and Closings this week

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Show Openings

The (edward) Hopper Project The Storefront Theatre

24 Hour Project Infamous Commonwealth Theatre

Annie Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Artist needs a Wife the side project

I Hate Hamlet Big Noise Theatre

Killer Joe Profiles Theatre

Kink Annoyance Theatre

Mamma Mia! Rosemont Theatre

Mary’s Wedding Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

The Original Improv Gladiators Corn Productions

Out of Order Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Prisoner of Second Avenue Citadel Theatre

Private Lives Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Sleeping Beauty Winnetka Theatre

Some Paradise Annoyance Theatre

Too Hot to Handel Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Wedding TUTA Theatre Chicago

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Show Closings 

Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival Chicago SketchFest

Death of a Salesman Raven Theatre

It Came Upon a Midnight Queen Chemically Imbalanced Theater

A Look Through Our Eyes Gorilla Tango Theatre

Sketch and Sniff Gorilla Tango Theatre

Sublime Beauty of Hands and Klown Kantos Next Theatre and Theatre Zarko

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientolgy Pageant A Red Orchid Theatre

This week’s Openings and Closings

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show openings

The Addams Family Broadway In Chicago

American Buffalo Steppenwolf Theatre 

Christmas Follies Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus

The Nutcracker Center for the Performing Arts at Governors State University

The Nutcracker North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

In the Heights Broadway In Chicago

It’s a Wonderful Life Improv Playhouse Radio Theatre

It’s a Wonderful Life AFTRA/SAG Senior Radio Players

Rent, School Edition Studio BE

Salsa Sketch Gorilla Tango Theatre

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show closings

CUBA and his Teddy Bear UrbanTheater / PEOPLE’S Theater of Chicago

The Dreamers Theatre Building Chicago 

How to Act Around Cops The Artistic Home

The Mercy Seat Profiles Theatre

The Mystery of Irma Vep Court Theatre

The Nutcracker Sings Jedlicka Performing Arts Center

Patchwork U.S.A. Raven Theatre

Peter Gallagher, Don’t Give Up on Me Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place

Stars in the Attic Gorilla Tango Theatre

Summer People The Gift Theatre

Time Traveling Mom-Dad Gorilla Tango Theatre

Towards the Sun! Gorilla Tango Theatre

Young Frankenstein Broadway In Chicago

REVIEW: Gorilla Tango’s “Mark & Laura’s Couples Advice Christmas Special”

Lack of Plot Leaves Characters Adrift

 

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Gorilla Tango presents:

Mark & Laura’s Couples Advice Christmas Special

Review by Keith Ecker

There are countless Christmas offerings this holiday season. You have the evergreen classics such as Miracle on 34th Street (our review) and A Christmas Carol (there are actually seven separate productions of the latter). You have plays targeted toward both children and the inner-child, such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (review). Then there’s the fringe fare—over-the-top shows that lampoon those things we hold most sacred about the Christmas season from family to Jesus to televised holiday spectaculars.

Mark & Laura’s Couples Advice Christmas Special (ticket info) falls into the latter category. It’s a bare-boned production that can barely be called a play due to its lack of any semblance of a plot. It’s definitely a comedy, though the funniest part of the show is the program, which provides humorous biographic information on the main characters. Yet, the play fails to incorporate this humor and, rather, flounders along on a series of contrived and well-worn comedy conventions.

The play centers on the Gibsons, a family who produces a cable access, relationship advice program. The fourth wall is non-existent as we, the audience, are the in-studio audience for their fictional broadcast, which airs in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Mother and father duo Laura (Carrie Bain) and Mark (Ryan McChesney) play the hosts who ooze Midwestern wholesomeness, including Laura’s love for soup and Mark’s passion for toolsets. Their production assistant is their son Sean (Adam Ziemkiewicz), a flamboyant thespian who elicits only derision from his father. The couple’s other son, Mark Jr. (Raymond Bruce Birkett III), is the apple of his father’s eye due to his love of ties and his 3.2 GPA.

Throughout the show, the couple espouses relationship advice, at one point fielding questions from the audience. Yet, it is obvious that hypocrisy is afoot as there are dysfunctions between the Gibsons, both as partners and as a family unit.

We’ve seen all these characters and relationships before in one form or another: the ostracized gay son, the know-it-all dad and the worrisome mother who just wants everyone to get along for the holidays. And although all actors do a good job of making these stock characters come to life, there is no reason for the audience to become invested in them in any way. That’s because there is really no plot, but only what appears to be a skeleton of a script with a few marks the actors agree to hit. There is little tension, despite such melodramatic conflict. There is resolution, but no feeling of relief. We cannot care about four people meandering on stage, directionless.

If there was more time and thought put into creating an inventive story wherein to place the Gibsons, this could have been an entertaining and refreshing addition to seasonal theater. However, as it stands, it’s really just a good way to enjoy an hour of central heating, courtesy of the Gorilla Tango Theater.

Rating:

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