Review: Lost & Found: Recycled Circus (Actors Gymnasium)

  
  

Energetic production will charm, warm and wow you

  
  

Lost and Found - Little Circus Actors Meredith Tommy Tomlins rehearsing for Lost and Found - Actors Gymnasium
   
  
The Actors Gymnasium presents
  
Lost and Found: a Recycled Circus
 
Created by Larry DiStasi and Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi
at
Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston (map)
thru March 13  |  tickets: $10-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

There’s something rather “Mad Max” about Lost and Found: a Recycled Circus. Its child performers are costumed in ragged, industrial odds and ends, recalling Tina Turner and the Thunderdome more than an Actors Gymnasium production at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. An apocalyptic circus at the end of the world suits, with its the rag-tag cast carrying on with life’s basic concerns and recreating new wonder out of the old and nearly forgotten. Under the direction of Larry DiStasi, a circus tradition is handed down to younger generations—a little worn and hodge-podge, but no less exciting for all that.

Andrew Adams, Zoe Boyer, Will Howard, Matt Roben, Meredith “Tommy” Tomlins and Lindsey Noel Whiting make up the adult members of the cast, stumbling clownishly through their own dilemmas of losing and finding love. Matt Roben, in baggy clown pants, timidly and haltingly pursues Lindsey Noel Whiting who, prior to the start of the show, tries to sell concessions that include uncooked parsnips and cans of spam. Roben, who has enough on his hands with mischievous kids cramping his dating game, has a rival in the hilariously portly Will Howard, who gives Whiting a date she’ll never forget—for all the wrong reasons.

 

 

DiStasi’s direction intersperses sly and nuanced clowning with aerial work on some pretty tough and industrial circus apparatus. Imposing an almost threatening presence is an aerial ring attached to ladders that form a cone at the top and bottom. Besides an elegant performance on it rendered by two young women in synchronized movement, Whiting also takes a daring turn on it to the tune of Queen’s “Somebody To Love.” If that were not enough, on a spare tire hung from the ceiling, Whiting’s acrobatic work alone thrills with its inherent danger. Meanwhile, Andrew Adams creates wordless, impressive poetry with two suspended cords and an umbrella to an instrumental version of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.”

Lost and Found is brilliant in bits and moments. Some of these inspire with Dada-esque disjointedness, as when Hannah Schwimmer sings “Poor Wandering One” with the introduction of Howard. But the integration of Actors Gymnasium Teen Ensemble into the storyline between Roben, Whiting and Howard seems to almost be an afterthought. Their numbers create a brilliant visual impact during a choreographed juggling sequence with Adams and their drumming with the younger cast members boosts the excitement of the show. But for a high-concept sort of circus, it’s curious that their acrobatic work is not integrated with the rest of the story. DiStasi tacks their turn at the teeterboard at the end—and as an encore to the production.

Still, it’s an encore that produces a burst of energy and that’s the most beautiful thing about Lost and Found. On these final chilly and rainy days of winter, this production will charm, warm and wow you.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Lost and Found: A Recycled Circus, featuring aerial acrobatics, live music, and magical, found-object invention, continues through March 13th at the Noyes Cultural Center.  Performance schedule: Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 4:30 and 7:30pm, Sundays 3:00pm.

     
Teen Actors Gymnasium Team Evanston Will Howard performs with kids from the Actors Gymnasium for production 'Lost and Found a recycled circus'
     
     

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REVIEW: Science Fiction Circus (The Actors Gymnasium)

Cute kids, talented teens and a few pros create marvelous science-fiction circus

 Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus

 
The Actors Gymnasium presents
 
Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus
 
Conceived, written and directed by Larry DiStasi
At Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston
Through April 18
(more info)
 
reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes
 

Five professional performers, eleven up-and-coming members of The Actors Gymnasium Teen Ensemble and five pint-sized prodigies bring the high-flying Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus to life in a whirl of color and sound.

Robots, aliens, monsters and an impressive lineup of circus acts come together in this show, conceived and directed by The Actors Gymnasium Artistic Director of Programming Larry DiStasi, a founder of Lookingglass Theatre. We start off with a quartet of mini mad scientists and their unfortunate subject (Griffin DiStasi, Jude Sims, Sadie Sims, Asher White and Julia Science Fiction: An Experiment in CircusWhite), and then segue into a black-lit, fluorescent team of talented, silk-rope-swinging aerialists (Jill Heyser and Kacin Menendez with Teen Ensemble member Meaghan Falvey).

A unicycle dance featuring all 11 members of the Teen Ensemble: Falvey, Gabby Aiden, Lucy Brennan, Sarah Buonaiuto, Lander Ellis, Emily Fishkin, Eleanor Goerss, Jackie Jarvis, Rachel Karn, Leah Orleans and Alison Tye — comes next, followed by Matt Roben as a monster Slinky twisting and contorting around the stage.

Karn, Tye and Nicole Pellegrino next perform an extraordinary and graceful contortionist sequence. Other noteworthy acts include a dance of "Stilts Creatures" by Heyser, Menendez and Pellegrino with Buonaiuto, Ellis and Falvey, a robot strong man act by Menedez and Will Howard, and a whirling Spanish web rope routine by Buonaiuto, Ellis, Fishkin and Orleans.

Another highlight is a vigorous drumming act choreographed by Jarrett Dapier featuring Pellegrino, Falvey and the five children, all delightfully clad as aliens in Spock ears and armor constructed from kitchen gear and designed by Larry DiStasi. Throughout, the costumes, a group effort, compliment the action beautifully, from blacklit neon leotards for aerialists to shiny lame robot outfits.

During interludes between the circus acts, a live band featuring Ellis, Goerss and Roben, sometimes supplemented by Griffin DiStasi, Fishkin and the Whites, plays original music by Greg Hirte, including an eerie trio on oboe, violin and musical saw. The circus acts themselves are performed in perfect time to a riveting soundtrack of found music put together by Larry DiStasi with aid of other cast members that ranges from part of "The Symphony of Science" to Daft Punk’s "Robot Rock” to Basshunter’s "I Can Walk on Water."

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The science-fiction theme creates a cohesive and humorous narrative to hold things together. In all, Science Fiction comprises a notable 30 acts and intervening scenes. On opening night, there were a few missteps but everyone gamely kept on going. Having recently seen the world-class Cirque du Soleil, I don’t need a time machine to say that these young performers are well on their way, and you can see them now for a fraction of the price they’ll command in days to come.

Rating: ★★★½

 
   
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REVIEW: Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol”

Get ready to love Christmas!

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Goodman Theatre presents:

 A Christmas Carol

By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Tom Creamer
Directed by
William Brown
thru December 31st (ticket info)

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Pictured in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, directed by William Brown are (top to bottom) Penelope Walker (Ghost of Christmas Present), John Babbo (Ignorance) and Caroline Heffernan (Want).If you’re not filled with the holiday spirit yet, you will be after Goodman’s A Christmas Carol.  Now in its 30th year, Charles Dickens‘ tale of redemption is brought to life by an all-star cast of Chicago talent, creating a emotional journey through one man’s mistakes that will resonate long after the curtain goes down.

This year’s production begins with a beautiful medley of holiday songs that immediately establishes the idea that Ebeneezer Scrooge (Larry Yando) detests: Christmas brings warmth and calm to a cold, chaotic world. But happiness is not profitable, and the great Yando plays an excellent curmudgeon in the opening scenes. Hunched over books of number and growling at charity workers, he is the portrait of loneliness. Yando begins to transform as he is shown visions of the past and present, and almost immediately the images awaken feelings that have been long buried. A scene between young Scrooge (Andy Truschinski) and his fiancee Belle (Jessie Mueller) is particularly heartbreaking because of the dedication Yando brings to his attempts to change the events that have shaped (destroyed?) him. The journey through his past tortures him, but he cannot escape viewing his own actions – the ultimate punishment. The pain of these moments is heightened by the contrast between the nature of the prison and the characterizations of the jailers: the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Alex Weisman) and Present (Penelope Walker).

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Weisman, fresh off a Jeff award win for Timeline Theatre’s The History Boys, looks like he is having the time of his life as he flies across the stage, and his jolly nature is a great fit for the early moments of Scrooge’s past, especially the Christmas party at Fezziwig’s. Walker is beautiful in a massive gold and red gown, and she sprinkles glitter with ebullient laughter that forces a smile out of the coldest hearts. As Scrooge’s memories sour, so do his tour guides. The aforementioned scene between Scrooge and Belle stifles the gleeful fire that burns in Weisman, and as Walker reveals the disdain Scrooge’s peers have toward him, as well as the troubles they themselves face, she becomes an almost malevolent force. A scene where she introduces Scrooge to the two children that represent Ignorance and Want, crawling out from beneath her garment to maximum dramatic effect, is particularly haunting, and the perfect introduction to the most terrifying of Dickens’ heralds: the Ghost of Christmas Future. Major props to the Goodman design team for creating the horrifically huge puppet for this last ghost, giving the spirit an overwhelming dreadfulness.

ChristmasCarol-5 The supporting cast impresses, balancing the community’s spite toward Scrooge with the good cheer of the holiday season. The Cratchit family is the heart of the show, and Ron Rains brings a wonderful caring energy as the patriarch Bob, always showing respect to his cruel boss. The scenes in the Cratchit household are brimming with love between husband and wife, parent and child, and actor and script. Fiercely committed, the actors have found the beauty in their misfortune, making Tiny Tim’s (John Francis Babbo) death in the future all the more tragic.

While sadness and loss are major factors of Dickens’ tale, Goodman’s production is filled with humor and moments of pure glee. The party at Fezziwig’s is positively rollicking and Scrooge’s nephew Fred’s (Matt Schwader) Christmas dinner is a joyful celebration filled with music and laughter. Where the show is most successful, though, is in the final moments when Scrooge vows to redeem himself, and Yando skips, jumps, and laughs his way into the hearts of the audience, a humbug no more.

 

Rating: ★★★½

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