Review: Hamlet (DreamLogic TheatreWorks)

     
     

An ambitious Shakespeare in promenade style

     
    

Jack Sharkey as Hamlet and Meg Elliott as Gertrude, DreamLogic TheatreWorks, Chicago

  
DreamLogic TheatreWorks presents
   
Hamlet
   
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Scott McKinsey
at Gunder Mansion, 6219 N. Sheridan (map)
thru March 5  |  tickets: $30 (w/ open bar) |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

His father was murdered. His mother married the killer. His girlfriend is playing hard-to-get. Why so glum Hamlet? DreamLogic TheatreWorks presents Hamlet, performed in promenade. Hamlet is in mourning. His uncle/step-dad wants hit him to snap out of it. His mom struggles to soothe her husband’s and her son’s mood swings. His girlfriend’s father assesses that Hamlet is a nut job. At her dad’s insistence, Ophelia breaks it off with Hamlet. Despite seeing a ghost, contemplating suicide, and being dumped, Hamlet is focused on getting his uncle to admit to the assassination. He contracts a traveling theatre troupe to perform a play of deception and betrayal. In between sniping at his ex, Hamlet observes the discomfort of his Paul Chakrin as Claudius, Meg Elliott as Gertude and Alexis Meuche as Ophelia in DreamLogic TheatreWorks' 'Hamlet' at Gunder Mansion.uncle’s theatre experience. The show doesn’t quite have Hamlet’s anticipated happy ending. His uncle admits only one thing, like father like son, death is the simple solution. The body count rises as life spirals into a stabbing-drowning-poisoning-stabbing fatal distraction. Presented in promenade, DreamLogics’ Hamlet is Shakespeare in your face, by your side, and behind your back.

A promenade theatrical experience puts the audience on stage. The technique has theatre-goers physically follow the activity from room to room. Set in the Gunder Mansion, DreamLogic utilizes the main floor, including the foyer and the front door. It starts in darkness. The cast is wearing contemporary street clothing. It’s hard to tell the actors from the audience. Flashlights and door pounding provide gripping chaos. The intrigue engages immediately and continues through a thrilling and potentially dangerous swordfight. Being feet, and sometimes inches, away from the action makes it personal. It’s like going to someone’s house for a dinner- murder theme party but with no dinner. (There is, however, an open bar.) Depending on your position…literally, observing the smallest gesture broadens the character’s persona. Gertrude pats her husband’s arm to shush his drunken pontification. Polonius crushes Ophelia’s love life and then patronizingly kisses her on the head. Gertrude and Claudius giggle like newlyweds. The talented cast promotes the virtual reality Shakespearean experience.

Director Scott McKinsey broadens the focal point of the scene to all the characters in the room. Without the fourth wall separation, characters are unable to melt into the scenery. They are constantly on. With the aid of clothing and closeness, the Shakespeare prose becomes conversational with subtle nuances teased out. A stand-out, Rob Glidden (Polonius) gives a blow hard delivery that is hysterical. Glidden is such a dad! Glidden lectures his son about money and his daughter about giving-it-away-for-free. Out of his paternal arena, he bumbles at court with delightful buffoonery. Jack Sharkey (Hamlet) keeps it real. Sharkey’s choices make Hamlet a recognizable guy. Sharkey rants in desperate betrayal and rejection. Sharkey is a hothead haunted by his dad’s ghost and his own honor. Either because of the vicinity or the humanity, Sharkey may be the most authentic Hamlet I’ve ever seen. Other especially poignant performances are a heart-wrenching Ophelia (Alexis Meuche), a maternally torn Gertrude (Meg Elliott) and shiver-inducing ghost/drunkenly disturbing Claudius (Paul Chakrin).

Shakespeare done in promenade is an ambitious undertaking. The classic verse doesn’t lend easily to an intimate experience. Plus, especially in Hamlet, the plays are long! Three hours standing is a challenge. To alleviate any discomfort, DreamLogic has benches and chairs in each room for a momentary respite. The occasional squat combined with comfortable shoes help make it less murderous on the audience. DreamLogic TheatreWork’s Hamlet is a classic and unique entertainment experience.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Paul Chakrin as Claudius and Nick Goodman as Laertes in DreamLogic's 'Hamlet' at the Gunder Mansion.

Running Time: Three hours with a ten minute intermission

  
  

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REVIEW: The Last Night of Ballyhoo (Project 891 Theatre)

    
     

What does it mean to be Jewish at Christmastime?

     
     

Jason Kellerman and Sarah Latin-Kasper

  
Project 891 Theatre Company presents
   
The Last Night of Ballyhoo
   
By Alfred Uhry
Directed by
Jason W. Rost
North Lakeside Cultural Center, 6219 N. Sheridan (map)
Through Dec. 19  |  
tickets: $15  |   more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Should a Jewish Christmas tree be topped with a star? That argument launches The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Alfred Uhry’s delectable examination of Southern Jewish culture in the mid-20th century, now playing in Project 891 Theatre Company’s nearly perfect site-specific production at Edgewater’s historic, 1914 Gunder Mansion (North Lakeside Cultural Center).

The year is 1939 and the place is Atlanta, where the film "Gone with the Wind" is having its premiere, while Hitler has begun his rampages in Europe.

Liz HoffmanHitler seems remote to most of the Freitag family, complacent, long-established, well-to-do Southern Jews of German heritage, as they trim their Christmas tree. They’re part of an ingrained culture so assimilated they barely know what being Jewish is, other than to chafe at the bigotry of the gentiles who keep them from mixing in the South’s highest society. So they create their own, "a lot of dressed-up Jews dancing around wishing they could kiss their elbows and turn into Episcopalians," in turn manifesting their own anti-Semitism against "the other kind" — Jews more recently arrived, more religious, more obviously ethnic.

Uhry mined the true history of the South and his own upbringing here. The play’s name, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, refers to the big society event of the season for the well-heeled Southern Jewish younger set, a cotillion at the exclusive Standard Club.

At the outset, anxious, flighty Lala Levy, one of the daughters of the house, doesn’t yet have a date for this important night. Sensitive, prickly and awkward, Lala is a grave disappointment to her bossy, ambitious mother, Boo, who fears her daughter will never "take." Lala suffers in comparison to her prettier, brighter, collegiate cousin, Sunny Freitag, who shares the family home along with her fond, slightly vague mother, Reba. Boo’s bachelor brother, the long-suffering Adolph Freitag, nominally presides over the household, supporting them all in comfort with the family business, Dixie Bedding Co.

Into this mix comes handsome Joe Farkas, a new and highly valued employee at the firm, Brooklyn-born and unmistakably "one of the other kind." He sets the family at odds on a number of levels, ultimately challenging their perception of what it means to be Jews.

Commissioned for the 1996 Olympic Arts Festival, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, was revised for its Broadway opening the following year. It deservedly received both the Tony and Outer Critics Circle awards for best play, as well as nominations for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

   
Darrelyn Marx and Lori Grupp Liz Hoffman and Austin D Oie

Skillfully staged in the mansion’s wood-paneled front parlor, with seating for just 23, this intimate production features superb acting, notably from the senior members of the cast. Darrelyn Marx excels as the acerbic Boo, pushing and goading her daughter with tough love, portraying this unlikable character with power and empathy. Lori Grupp charms as Reba, and Larry Garner puts in a wonderfully wry performance as Adolph.

Liz Hoffman captures Lala’s painful gracelessness beautifully. Sarah Latin-Kasper makes a serene Sunny, and Jason Kellerman gives Joe a perfect balance between brashness and bewildered sensitivity. His smile when Sunny agrees to a date lights up the room. Austin Oie is hilarious as redheaded Peachy Weil, the well-born Louisiana wiseacre whom Boo hopes to capture for Lala.

For those who prefer their December entertainment without cloying overdoses of sentiment and good cheer, The Last Night of Ballyhoo offers everything a holiday show should have: Great performances, depth, humor and pathos.

    
   
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Note: Allow time to find street parking

  
  

 

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REVIEW: A Crowded House (State Theatre of Chicago)

   
   

Inside each room lies a literary genius gasping for breath

 

State Theatre - A Crowded House - Image

  
State Theatre presents
  
A Crowded House
   
Adapted from a collection of Virginia Woolf novels
Directed by Lisa Siciliano and Tim Speicher
at
Gunder Mansion, 6219 N. Sheridan (map)
through November 13  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

That Virginia Woolf created anything is a testament to her drive, razor-sharp intelligence and prolific, intense imagination. That her work emerged as a leading voice in Modernism, despite immense social and mental health obstacles, is nothing less than incredible. Being raised in an ultra-literate Victorian household certainly gave Woolf the educational foundation on which to succeed, but recurring nervous breakdowns and perennial depression plagued her from adolescence.

A bit of hallmark Victorian shame and silence, especially regarding mental illness, swathes and muffles the rough sketch of Virginia Woolf (Casey Searles) that is A Crowded House; but that tactic seems only appropriate. State Theatre selected the period perfect Gunder Mansion to present her life, through her work, en promenade. While I’ve seen other theater companies defeat themselves with that sort of set up, State Theatre fulfills their mission with great poetry. One is almost overwhelmed by the production’s impressionistic simplicity and also its meticulous attention to detail. Not one, but eight playwrights sculpt the miniature dramas that take place in each room and each room represents one of Woolf’s novels. But more than that, like Woolf’s novels, each room becomes a moment in time or a place in the mind, a A Crowded Room - State Theatre - posterthought or emotion that exists to be revisited. Mrs. Dalloway (Catherine Bullard) is our guide; Woolf’s perfect hostess, hosting the tour of her creator’s mind—another nice bit of turnabout.

Co-directors Lisa Siciliano and Tim Speicher succeed in truly breaking down barriers between audience and cast by establishing each character immediately. “The Voyage Out” by Lisa Siciliano throws the audience into the middle of a wedding party celebrating Virginia and Leonard’s nuptials, as well as the publication of Virginia’s novel by the same name. While a tactic like that can feel stagy, it’s surprising how quickly one acclimates to their eccentric, literary milieu. Outrageous Lytton Strachey (Zach Kropp) and Clive Bell (Caleb Probst) dominate the social scene–poor, sweet Leonard (Joe Zarrow) rendered quite meek and unadorned in their company.

But one quickly realizes, by inference, the critical if quiet role that Leonard plays in Virginia’s life and work. “Night and Day” by Rob Smith drives home the monstrous arrangement between Virginia and her half-brothers. George and Gerald Duckworth, who molested both Virginia and her sister Vanessa after their mother’s death, control the publication of her works—at least until Leonard sets up an independent press to produce them instead. Likewise, in “Mrs. Dalloway” by Greg Edwards, Leonard becomes protective of Virginia when the party celebrating the publication of her novel breaks down entirely. The frenzied self-absorption of their guests and the pressure to be all things—great writer, great hostess—finally gets to Virginia.

The perpetual fragility of Virginia’s mental state is the running thread behind each play—in ways large and small A Crowded House attempts to unravel the reasons behind Woolf’s eventual suicide. Indeed, one whole room is devoted to Virginia’s mentality. Even the erotic reverie that is “Orlando” by Lisa Siciliano, regarding Woolf’s affair with Vita Sackville-West (Cara Olansky), centers on Virginia’s isolation from everyone—even the lover closest to her.

Obviously, this is not the whole Virginia Woolf. State Theatre runs the risk of portraying her as just another woman writer, fulfilling the “madwoman in the attic” stereotype. At the same time, Casey Searles is at her best in Virginia’s final act. All that the woman wanted to do was write, but mental illness was stripping that away from her. All that can be offered in reply is silence. The gorgeous shadow puppetry of Tim Speicher’s “Between the Acts” gives us that silence . . . and wonder . . . and beauty.

While one might wish for other, more diverse elements of Woolf’s life and work to be fleshed out, A Crowded House is one to see.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
        
   

 

Extensions: The Cabinet, Pillowman, Harper Regan, The Long Red Road

cabinet 

The Cabinet  – extended through April 4th

Redmoon Theatre has announced an extension of their haunting and surreal production. The Cabinet,originally slated to close on March 7th, has now been extended through April 4th.  Tickets are available online or by calling (312) 850 – 8440. (Read our review ★★★½)

 

 

   

PmanLogo600 Pillowman – extended through March 16th

Due to popular demand, Redtwist Theatre’s smash hit Pillowman, by Martin McDonagh and directed by Kimberly Senior, has extended its run through March 16, 2010, with a further extension imminent (fyi: Pillowman has been running strong since November 2009!).  All performances at the Redtwist blackbox space, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr.  Tickets, priced at $22 – $27, are currently on sale.  (See our Pillowman review here ★★★)

 

   

Harper Regan – extended through March 28th

On Thursday, January 21st, the Steep Theatre’s U.S. premiere of Simon StephensHarper Regan opened. Word hit the street by Friday and the first reviews hit the stands Saturday morning. By noon on Monday the 24th, every performance of the six-week run and the one week extension had sold out.  In response to this terrific demand, Steep has announce additional performances of this smash hit. An unprecedented 16 performances have been added to this already extended show – now running through March 28th.  For ticket info here. (our review here)

   

 

LongRedRoad_poster The Long Red Road extended through March 21st

Due to high demand for tickets, Goodman Theatre has extended its world-premiere production of The Long Red Road, a new play by Brett C. Leonard, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, by one week—now running February 13 through March 21, 2010. The cast of six remains intact for the extension week, including London’s stage and screen actor Tom Hardy, as well as Marcos Akiaten, Greta Honold, Chris McGarry, Fiona Robert and Katy Sullivan.

 

   

 

Review: Prologue Theatre’s “Sex” by Mae West

Prologue Theatre’s “Sex” Only Puts Out a Little

 Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 2 (photo by Alix Klingenberg)

Prologue Theatre presents:

Sex

by Mae West
directed by Margo Gray
thru November 21st (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 5 (photo by Alix Klingenberg) I’ve long wanted to see Sex, the play that put Mae West in jail. Mae West was one of America’s great crossover artists, bringing more risqué influences from vaudeville and jazz to the so-called “legitimate” stage on Broadway. She appropriated elements from African-American artists and the drag balls of the Pansy Craze, lifting comic styling wholesale from female impersonators Burt Savoy and Julian Eltinge. For her part, West daringly imported queer culture into the mainstream with her plays The Drag and The Pleasure Man. But then Mae West was about all sex, not just the straight variety.

Prologue Theatre Company is obviously conscious of the historical value of these American theatrical and cultural developments, staging Sex at the turn-of-the-century Gunder Mansion, now serving as the North Lakeside Cultural Center. The play occurs en promenade, an element that both does and doesn’t work for the production. Transitioning the audience from room to room certainly emphasizes shifts in place from Montreal to Trinidad to Connecticut. However, the time it takes for the audience to make it into their seats from one room to the next also produces clumsy delays between scenes and the travel up and down stairs definitely limits accessibility.

What created scandal in West’s time seems tame in ours. Yet Jes Bedwinek, as the savvy working girl Margy Lamont, infuses her leading role with the right amount of suggestiveness. She borrows just enough of West’s timing and inflections without devolving into an utter Mae West caricature–successfully acknowledging her illustrious forebear while at the same time making the role her own. Anne Sheridan Smith molds her role as the philandering society matron Clara Stanton, to be the perfectly balanced foil to Bedwinek’s Margy—just as lusty, yet hemmed in by cultural refinement and conventional restraints. As the doomed prostitute Agnes, Rebecca L. Maudlin brings realism and sympathy to a role that could have been rendered as simply pathetic. It’s a woman’s play, after all; the things of greatest consequence happen to the women characters.

 

Prologue Theatre Co - Sex1 (photo by Alix Klingenberg) Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 3 (photo by Alix Klingenberg)
Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 6 (photo by Alix Klingenberg) Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 4 (Photo by Alix Klingenberg)

Director Margo Gray has honed the cast to adhere to naturalism, as opposed to the heavily stylized acting of West’s era. It’s a choice that definitely scales the production to the more intimate setting of Gunder Mansion, as well as clarifying and updating the play for a modern audience. It’s also a choice that exposes the weaknesses of uneven casting. Gray has brought from her successful run of The Wonder: a Woman Keeps a Secret Sean Patrick Ward (Jimmy Stanton) and Christopher Chamblee (Lt. Gregg), yet many cast performances are too scattershot to convey a cohesive ensemble. Nathan Pease’s turn as Margy’s pimp, Rocky, is sleazy enough yet still doesn’t contain the menace needed to threaten convincingly.

For my money, the audience gets stinted the most during the more vaudevillian portions of the play. The opening of the first scene in Trinidad should shine with musical numbers that warm the audience to Margy’s culminating performance of “Shake That Thing”—a classic Ethel Waters tune that Mae West appropriated. A little more jazz and enthusiasm, as well as a little more shakin’ that thing, might easily make up for musical deficiencies. Or perhaps Tinuade Oyelowo should be given more numbers to rock the audience with that voice of hers. Whatever the case, this is supposed to be the Roaring Twenties, not the Ironic 90’s or the Tight-ass 50’s. It’s not a good sign when there’s more fun to be had listening to the singing of drunken sailors on shore leave.

All in all, the shortcoming’s of Prologue’s production resigns it to community theater status for all their efforts. As Mae would know, it takes performers with a lot more on the ball than this to produce good old-fashioned entertainment.

Rating: ★★

 

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