REVIEW: punkplay (Pavement Group at Steppenwolf)

Even high school sub-cultures demand conformity.

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Pavement Group presents:

punkplay

written by Gregory Moss
directed by David Perez
Through April 25th at Steppenwolf Garage (more info)

by Barry Eitel

punkplay_1_photobyPeterCoombs You can tell Gregory Moss’ play punkplay is pretty rebellious from the fact that the title refuses to be capitalized. Pavement Group tears up Moss’ play as their entry to Steppenwolf’s new Garage Rep rotation that showcases several exciting young Chicago companies. This 75-minute crude, rude, yet ultimately fascinating drama tells the tale of two teenage boys (a gangly Alexander Lane and Matt Farabee , who doesn’t look a day over 14) growing up in Reagan’s America and diving head first into the world of punk rock. Over the ensuing year or so from hearing their first punk record, we get to watch the duo start a band, idolize girls along with more extreme (read: homeless) punks, and masturbate (a few times). Moss’ script has its holes, but director David Perez and his energetic cast railroad right over them. If you can stomach the scuzziness, this is one great coming-of-age story.

I was wondering which choices were Perez’s decisions or written in the play. Either way, the semi-presentational/realistic/fantastical world located in the Steppenwolf Garage space grabs you and doesn’t let go. Scenic designer Grant Sabin, who actually designed all three shows, has created something like a robo-tripping Glass Menagerie. The set is simple but allows for all sorts of manipulation, projection, and imagination. Nearly all of the products, including beer, comics, and erotic videos, are painted white and slapped with a simple eponymous label, a homage to punk classic Repo Man (which starred a young Emilio Estevez).

Also, all the actors wear roller skates (sort of a Sex Pistol’s Starlight Express)

Lane and Farabee have a great energy together. Somewhat zombified, Duck (Lane) sees himself as the ultimate judge of what is punk. Mickey (Farabee) is bright-eyed and impressionable, yet comes across as much more diverse than his close-minded counterpart. The cast is rounded out by Keith Neagle and Tanya McBride, who play multiple parts with gusto. One of the most bizarre dream/hallucination sequences I’ve ever seen features McBride in a bikini top and a Reagan mask. It’s an image that won’t leave me for a long time.

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Moss’ play covers a lot of territory; his characters trek the already epic journey of high school with the added objective of tearing down the bourgeois, Molly Ringwald culture that surrounds them. It’s a monumental task. Moss does a pretty good job of navigating this tumultuous world, but the script could be condensed. Mickey and Duck take in a pair of transients from Montreal at one point, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Also, Duck’s family situation is explained in the first scene when he moves in with Mickey (he was kicked out of his house), but not much information is given about Mickey’s familial life. You begin to wonder what his parents think about him harboring Duck in his room, which transforms from a stark suburban white to a vomit of graffiti. That missing relationship doesn’t take away much because the production wallows in abstraction, but it would be nice to know something about it (which might be a whole play in itself: groundedplay). Some of the longer speeches wax poetical, and audience interest drops. Some information is extraneous and some is muddled, which suggests Perez and Moss could make the show tighter.

Perez’s production shows how tough and confusing it can be to grow up, like “Breakfast Club” with more spike chokers. Duck and Mickey must face the fact that the punk scene might just be another high school subculture demanding conformity. Luckily, the Black Flag records give way to Sonic Youth, not Sum 41, and we all learn something about ourselves.

Rating: ★★★

REVIEW: A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant (Next Theatre)

Limited Direction Hampers “…Scientology Pageant”

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Next Theatre presents:

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant

By Kyle Jarrow
Concept by Alex Timbers
directed by Kathryn Walsh
thru January 3rd, 2010 (ticket info)

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The boxy proscenium studio theater space at Next Theatre creates challenges for any of its productions. It produces visual perspectives that tend toward the two-dimensional and contained. One would think that wouldn’t necessarily detract from a satire qua children’s pageant. Yet the set design (Grant Sabin) for Next’s seasonal production, A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant, is strikingly flat and unimaginative. Kathyrn Walsh’s direction stays contentedly—and without irony–within its confines, for the most part stationing the pageant’s child actors on three-tiered risers that further distance audience from performance.

It is the staging that dulls the tooth of this anti-religious-scam slam fest. Children re-enacting with absolute earnestness the life of L. Ron Hubbard, the modern prophet of Scientology, is a premise with Wildean potential. But, for all it’s self-touted edginess, in close collaboration with the show’s Obie award winning creator, Kyle Jarrow, Next has pulled its punches and stayed closer to conventional home.

Awkward scene changes and uneven pacing fragment the ensemble cast’s cohesiveness. Interestingly, it is cohesiveness they energetically demonstrate while cutting loose during some of the musical numbers, throwing in acrobatic abandon for good measure. Jennifer Baker, Sara Geist, and Nicole Rudakova project performances that stand out from the constrictions with which they must contend. Also, Jason Krause ably plays L. Ron Hubbard, pulling off smug self-satisfaction and the cravat-and-blazer look with natural ease.

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Several new songs have been introduced as products of collaboration between Jarrow and Next Theatre’s Artistic Director Jason Southerland. While one song lends a softer, more humanizing tone to the process individuals within Scientology may go through, the rest don’t radically alter the message or style of the show, nor do they have to. The amount of satire that any religion can take should be directly proportional to the money it makes.

Rating: ★★½

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Review: Chicago Dramatists’ “Lucinda’s Bed”

Many Beds in Lucinda’s Life

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Chicago Dramatists present:

Lucinda’s Bed

By Mia McCullough
Directed by Jessi D. Hill
Thru November 8th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

The world premiere of Lucinda’s Bed by Mia McCullough is a dark tragic comedy that explores the anger in a girl who tries her whole life to be good, with no reward for her choices and no break from her relentless temptations. Confined by the expectations of others, Lucinda fights to identify herself and recognize her personal desires. She is constantly growing through her painful experiences and continuing to “sleep in the bed she made.” She questions the benefit of her choices and tiptoes on to the dirty lucindaportraitside of morality. As we travel through the different stages of Lucinda’s life we see the pain and conflicting emotions of a girl just trying to see if it is possible to do the right thing and be true to her self.

At nine years old, Lucinda (Elizabeth Laidlaw) is a pure child who has an innocent yet intimate friendship with a nice young boy Adam (Doug Mackechnie) who is kind, supportive and predictable. It is at this young age that the monster under Lucinda’s bed (Lucas Neff) introduces himself to her and her temptations begin. Throughout her life the monster visits Lucinda, challenging her automatic response to do the “right” thing and presents her with the possibility to follow her raw desires.

Mia McCullough tells an honest (even when exaggerated) portrayal of the horrifying hardships that a female may encounter while becoming a woman. Through the physical, emotional and mental conflicts that arise in Lucinda’s journey, McCullough tells a story about how much it takes out of a woman that constantly tries to love and please everyone. She shows the strength one gains from loving and caring for everyone around you, but also the toll that it takes on that person’s spirit.

Director Jessi D. Hill has smoothly strung together a long series of events covering a Lucinda’s lifetime. The quick transitions between scenes are creative, finding ways to enhance the sense of a time lapse. However, the overly consistent changes dragged on after a while even with the witty effects. Scenic designer Grant Sabin scatters outlandishly clever pieces through out the set, changing the room to exemplify the time in Lucinda’s life that each scene took place.

play3393 Lucinda lives through a painful sequence of events as she grows older, but the moments in between had me bent over laughing. Elizabeth Laidlaw connected with the audience, making Lucinda’s aging relatable. Laidlaw is sexually tantalizing on stage, as she spends a large portion of the show in her bra and panties.  But her ability to find the tragic depth in each moment she encounters, and cope with the hurdles in front of her with changing reactions due to her constantly evolving life experience, is what stands out in her performance.

Lucas Neff’s acting ability is put on display as he convincingly plays numerous characters. His charm effortlessly switches to immature goofiness, giving each character he plays a full range of personality. Meanwhile, Doug Mackechnie was at his best when playing an older Adam closer to his age. While over-embellishing his portrayal of Adam in his youth, he completely captured the innocence in his youthful character.

The Chicago Dramatists are hot right now – their world-premiere of Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain is currently running on Broadway, starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig -  and they continue to roll with Mia McCullough’s Lucinda’s Bed. This play provides deep insight into the weighty sorrow one feels after trying to live up expectations and move past its cruelty in the world before it sucks the life right out of us. Chicago Dramatists present what would be a dark drama with great humor and an overall entertaining experience. This tragedy is a comedic experience that will give you lots to talk about.

Rating: «««

 

Featuring: Associate Artist Doug MacKechnie, Elizabeth Laidlaw and Lucas Neff
Grant Sabin (Set Designer), Diane Fairchild (Lighting Designer) Nick Keenan (Sound Designer), Jenniffer Thusing (Props Designer and Stage Manager), and Kat Doebler (Costume Designer)

Theater Thursday: "God’s Ear" and Dog and Pony Theatre

Thursday, April 9

God’s Ear     by Jenny Schwartz

Dog and Pony Theatre  at the Viaduct Theatre

3111 N. Western Ave., Chicago

dog&pony-god's earDon’t miss this special evening of reflection and discussion with the creative team of God’s Ear. Following the performance, please join the cast and crew for pizza and beer and participate in an intimate and animated discussion of the work. God’s Ear is a heartbreaking work that uses unconventional structure and language while exploring a couple’s relationship as they mourn the death of their son.  

Show begins at 8 p.m.

Event begins immediately following the performance
TICKETS ONLY $20
For reservations call 773.296.6024 and mention “Theater Thursdays.”

Midwest premiere directed by Artistic Director Krissy Vanderwarker

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The Cast: Gina D’Ercoli, Jeff Fisher, Luke Hatton, Faith Noelle Hurley, Teeny Lamothe, Elizabeth Levy, and Mike Trehy.

The Crew: set design by Grant Sabin; sound design by Stephen Ptacek; lighting design by Aaron Weissman; props by Linda Laake; composition by Abraham Levitan of Baby Teeth.

 

 

For a complete list of upcoming Theater Thursdays, click here.

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