REVIEW: Louis Slotin Sonata (A Red Orchid Theatre)

Turning quantum physics into an educational sonata

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A Red Orchid Theatre presents
   
Louis Slotin Sonata
  
Written by Paul Mullin
Directed by
Karen Kessler
A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells (map)
through October 24th  |  tickets: $25-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

‘Tickling the dragon’s tale’ sounds like a fairytale requirement for rescuing the princess. It is not so enchanting! In fact, it’s the testing procedures for a plutonium bomb. A Red Orchid Theatre presents Louis Slotin Sonata, based on the death and times of a historical figure. In 1946, Dr. Louis Slotin has plans. Goodbye bombs! Hello biology! Louie’s bags are packed to leave the military zone and go university academic. Before his departure, he decides to give the dragon one more tickle. louis slotin sonata poster During the routine, Louis’ hand slips and the dragon bites. Everyone in the room is exposed to radiation. Louis Slotin Sonata focuses on the final nine days of a scientist. In a morphine induced haze, Louie tries to piece together his incident, existence and death. His Hebrew lessons and Nazi war criminal memories jumble producing hallucinatory action adventure and a choreographed Nagasaki shuffle. Louis Slotin Sonata is a concerto of science and religion with an underlying comedic rhythm.

Director Karen Kessler orchestrates a swift movement between the surreal and real. Louis’ final days are recollections of the past, present and future. His current state is spliced with future monologues from medical and military personnel reviewing the facts and delirious visits with historical figures. Steve Schine (Louis) portrays the scientist with apologetic arrogance. Former rogue and brilliant bomb maker, Schine transforms in humble vulnerability to a science geek fearful of being remembered for a blunder. The outstanding ensemble plays multiple roles with distinction. Guy Massey displays impressive range from soft-spoken scientist to abrupt military man to evangelizing religious fanatic. William Norris gives a heart-wrenching performance as a Jewish father losing his son to science. Anita Deely is the kind-hearted nurse struggling with anger over the avoidable tragedy. Adding to the laughs, Duncan Riddell haunts, Doug Vickers bumbles, Christopher Walsh deadpans, and Walter Briggs aka ‘Death’ calculates.

The entire ensemble shines around Schine in this dark comedy.

Louis Slotin wanted to fade into obscurity instead of being remembered for ‘dropping the big one’ or more accurately ‘poking the small one’. Playwright Paul Mullin has preserved Dr. Slotin in a playful but educational sonata. The show is an entertaining lesson in science, history and religion. The heavy-duty science instruction made me realize I would have done better in physics if my teacher had been one of the Louis Slotin Sonata ensemble.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
   

SHOW WARNING: I am cursed with A Red Orchid Theatre bad seat karma. In this production, there is only ONE seat obstructed with regularity. I sat in it! Don’t make my mistake! The theatre is split into three sections. In between, the left and middle section, don’t pick the sole seat on the second row without a chair in front of it. Kessler has chosen to place an actor’s back to the audience directly in front of that seat… in many scenes. The choice effectively blocks the action from view. On the positive side, if there was a real bomb, I would have been shielded from radiation exposure.

Running Time: Two hours includes a ten minute intermission

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REVIEW: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Gift Theatre)

Crazy good, but not great

 
CUCKOOS#2
 
The Gift Theatre presents:
 
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
 
by Dale Wasserman
based on the novel by Ken Kesey
directed by John Kelly Connolly
at Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee (map)
through May 9th (more info)

reviewed by Katy Walsh 

“Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.”

      -American children’s folk rhyme

Less than fifty years ago, lobotomies and electroshock treatments were still the accepted prescription to cure mental illness. The Gift Theatre presents One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a play based on the multiple Academy Award-Winning film version of the novel of the same name, by Ken Kesey. Set in 1959, the story takes place in a psychiatric institution. The patients, orderlies and even doctors are under the self-appointed supervision of Nurse Ratched. Through ‘therapeutic’ humiliation, Nurse Ratched manipulates her fiefdom into disciplined obedience. Her tranquility is threatened upon the arrival of Randle Patrick McMurphy. Trying to avoid hard labor on a work farm, McMurphy opts for the loony bin to serve his remaining five month sentence. Although McMurphy is non-compliant with authority issues, he’s not crazy. It’s Ratched vs McMurphy for control of the psychos. Seeing the Gift Theatre’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a voluntary commitment to witness the true madness of corrupt authority in a healing profession.

The Gift Theatre has this Grotowski quote on their home page:

 
Acting is a particularly thankless art. It dies with the actor.
Nothing survives him but the reviews, which do not usually do
him justice anyway, whether he is good or bad. So the only
source of satisfaction left to him is the audience’s reaction. The
actor, in this special process of discipline and self-sacrifice,
self-penetration and molding, is not afraid to go beyond all
normally acceptable limits.  The actor makes a total gift of himself.

                –Jerzy Grotowski “Towards a Poor Theatre”

It’s a powerful statement to the life of a stage actor. Movie actors have it a little easier. Their legacy is preserved in film… forever. Unfortunately and fortunately, it’s the Academy Award-Winning performances of Jack Nicholson (McMurphy) and Louise Fletcher (Ratched) that haunt this stage version. Both Paul D’Addario (McMurphy) and Alexandra Main (Ratched) play it safe – following suit to the film depiction of their roles. It’s not wrong, but it just isn’t quite right. To quote Nurse Ratched, D’Addario and Main are “just fine.”

CUCKOOS#3 This show really belongs to the supporting crazies. Jay Worthington (Billy Bibbit) is a standout as a stuttering, vulnerable mama’s boy. Different from the film version of his character, Kent L. Joseph (Chief Bromden) narrates the crazy practices of the hospital in disturbing monologues. His ability to ball up his massive frame into a defenseless pile is amazing. David Fink (Martini) is hilarious in his delusional state. Guy Massey (Harding) is frighteningly sane as a crazy patient. With no real lines, Adam Rosowicz (Ruckly) delivers a memorable performance with inhumane sounds and physicality.

This cast is huge. The stage is small. Under the direction of John Kelly Connolly, the ensemble set up and break down chairs an insane amount of times. This stage “clean-up” throws off the pacing slightly and the scene transitions are clunky. The set, designed by Ian Zywica , is institutional, right down to the green “mental ward” paint choice. Kate Murphy designed the costumes which are a wonderful combo of old school nurses’ uniforms, 50’s cocktail dresses and pajama party. Whether it was Murphy’s or the actor’s decision, I loved Norman H. Tobin (Scanlon) appearing throughout the show with only one slipper on. Come on…that’s crazy!

Overall, this production tends to basically be a live version of the 1970’s movie, which makes it an entertaining gift available to be unwrapped through May 9th.
 

 

Rating: ★★½

 

 CUCKOOS#1

Running time: two hours and forty five minutes includes fifteen minute intermission and delayed start.  

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Review: Curious Theatre’s “Two Plays by Beau O’Reilly”

Misery and Mystery Undergird Two Plays by Beau O’Reilly

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Curious Theatre presents:

Two Plays by Beau O’Reilly

by Beau O’Reilly
thru January 3rd (ticket info)

review by Paige Listerud

Program notes handed out for Curious Theatre’s latest production at the Center Portion Gallery tell you nothing typical regarding the plays performed. They give a bit of history about their creation process–but nothing so conventional as actor biographies or promotional material about the company itself. Instead, playwright Beau O’Reilly writes about getting knocked out of commission at an unexpected moment:

I woke up on Wednesday with “No Longer a Rock” completely in my head and wrote it down . . . Celebrating, I got on a bike and headed down the dirt road . . . I was knocked unconscious, woke up to . . . a feeling of disassociation, which included watching language blend, dissolve, and wander away as if it was someone else’s province . . . rescued from the brain trauma unit by my friends, I did go to the theatre festival, but efforts to move on stage with lumpy grace were replaced by spinning vertigo . . . I sat instead in an armchair and told a half-remembered story, watching my mouth paraphrase my paraphrases as words would float away . . .

Serious misery accompanies incapacitation. Both No Longer the Rock of the World and Dead to the World reveal lives of emotional and mental disability. Despair over what has been lost and won’t be recovered dwells side by side with miraculous possibility–the healing of longstanding wounds and the opening up of new worlds. Forgiveness and the recovery of humanity–heck, even the recovery of a reliable daily routine–allude to chance, fate, or the mystery of existence lying behind material reality. Is O’Reilly aware that he has written little mystery plays for the modern world?

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Never mind. In No Longer the Rock of the World, Kelly Ann Corcoran and Guy Massey strike a nice dueling sardonic pair as Carol and Charles. Both are defensively mourning the death of Walter, an idiosyncratic performance artist who was Carol’s lover and also Charles’ brother. Walter’s dying wish brings them together, as much as they wouldn’t stand each other under any other circumstances.

Charles hurts from his own unfinished business with Walter, as well Carol’s limited judgments of him. Guy Massey immaculately conveys Charles’ brittle spirit, especially when he returns fire with, “You’re a snob, Carol.” But nothing frames their scene together like the black despair Carol sinks into when alone. Who needs who the most becomes the predominant question. O’Reilly’s original music, sung live by a character named Elsie, provides eerie accompaniment to the scene, performed on opening night by Sophie Sennard and Julian Berke. (Jenny Magnus will alternate with Sennard during the run.)

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Dead to the World is essentially one long monologue about a man suffering unpredictable attacks of narcolepsy. Already living on the edge, his life’s journey is an uninterrupted dreamscape that, in its own grungy way, represents a descent into hell. Certainly, the building he lives in, with its gangsta-style vandalism and creepy neighbor lady, is a familiar renter’s hell. How survival happens at all for this guy is as much a mystery to the audience as to him. We are left to presume the kindness of many unmentioned strangers. It’s here where O’Reilly’s writing could use an editor’s eye, since the work threatens to devolve into a shaggy-dog story. But it’s a strong stroke of realism when his character’s escape from narcolepsy is as unpredictable and enigmatic as the rest of his experience.

Kate Teichman adroitly navigates the ups and downs of O’Reilly’s text. Thankfully, the writing exercises her full, versatile range. She’s an actor who gives quirky roles grounding and respect, avoiding clownishness, even while wearing oversize glasses and engaging in a few acrobatics. It’s a performance worth seeing, even with a text that could be tightened up. Not only do we buy her performance as a man, we believe the moments of epiphany along with the dips into despair and disorientation.

Rating: ★★★


INFO:

November 27 – January 3
Fridays & Saturdays 8 PM
Sundays 3 PM

Note: No shows Christmas week or New Year’s Day.

@ Center Portion
2850-1/2 West Fullerton Ave
in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood

$15 or pay what you can at the door
$12 in advance online

Reserve advanced tickets at: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/90439

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Review: Rivendell’s “These Shining Lives”

Find Time To See It!

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Rivendell Theatre Ensemble presents:

These Shining Lives

by Melanie Marnich
directed by Rachel Walshe
at the Raven Theatre thru November 21st (buy tickets)

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Catherine is elated to be starting a new job painting 100+ watches a day at 8 cents a watch. Time is her friend? Or is it? Rivendell Theatre Ensemble remounts its critically acclaimed and Jeff Award nominated These Shining Lives.  Directed by Rachel Walshe,These Shining Lives is the true story of four of the many women who work at the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois in the 1920’s. Unaware of the risk, these workers paint the glow-in-the-dark faces on watches utilizing radium. Women are voting, smoking in public and joining the workforce. Having a well-paying job in a challenging economy brings independence and validation. Later, suspecting that something isn’t quite right, the women struggle to not lose the freedom, security and camaraderie of employment. These Shining Lives uses a tragedy in history to illustrate the strong bonds of marriage and friendship.

As Catherine (Kathy Logelin) tells us at the beginning of the show “this story starts out as a fairy tale.” And she’s right – it’s enchanting!  Playwright Melanie Marnich chooses the non-Silkwood route and focuses instead on the vulnerability and innocence of a young woman’s love for her husband, her job and her friends. The onstage intimacy between Logelin and her husband Tom (Guy Massey) isn’t of the sizzle variety (that never sustains anyway). It’s the “looks like you had a worse day at work than me, Katy, I’ll cook dinner” charming kind. Logelin also shines with her gal pals: Charlotte (Ashley Neal), Frances (Caitlin McGlone) and Pearl (Rani Waterman). They start as a work clique with mindless chatter to fill up the workday. “Gossip is the devil’s radio,” proclaims Frances. “It’s my favorite station,” quips Charlotte. Then, it’s six years later, and the women with whom Catherine has randomly been assigned to have become her family. And her family is dying. Under the direction of Rachel Walshe, the cast does an excellent job of portraying finding joy in the simplistic shininess of the everyday.

Throughout the play, we wonder why these women stick a radium laced paintbrush repeatedly in their mouth. This conjures up the ominous thought that perhaps sometime in the future, people may be surprised, but not shocked, to learn there is a link between cell phones and brain tumors….

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is giving Chicago a second opportunity to find joy in the simplistic times of These Shining Lives. It would be a tragedy to miss it! (Remember to turn off your cell phone during the show.)

Rating: ««««

 

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The offstage Tom described the show as beautiful, ornate and tragic.

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Review: Eclipse Theatre’s “Six Degrees of Separation”

 Relationships Have Their Limits 

 L-R: Paul (Michael Pogue) describes his stolen thesis paper to Ouisa (Karen Yates), Flan (Eric Leonard) and Geoffrey (John Milewski) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare, directed by Steve Scott.

Eclipse Theatre presents:

Six Degrees of Separation
by John Guare 
directed by Steve Scott
thru August 30 (Buy tickets online)

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

WHAT IS THE POINT of being related to everyone else on the planet, if the daily connections between those one is closest to are thin, shallow, and brittle to the point of snapping? That is the central theme of John Guare’s most famous play, Six Degrees of Separation, produced by Eclipse Theatre at The Greenhouse Theatre upstairs studio. Sadly, as proficient, or even inspired, as individual performances may be, a startling lack of contrast between what is and what could be in the relationships between various characters reduces this production to a flat, if interesting exercise.

L-R: Flan (Eric Leonard) receives a gift from Paul while Larkin (Joe Mack), Ouisa (Karen Yates) and Kitty (Rebecca Prescott) try to find Paul's father, in Eclipse Theatre's production of "Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare, directed by Steve Scott. Perhaps this particular studio space simply cannot allow for enough varying levels of play. In scenes which require most of the cast, Steve Scott’s direction clumps half to one side and half to the other, forcing an almost two-dimensional interaction, and reducing the actors to bodies onstage. Also, this ensemble play still lacks strong ensemble feeling. Characters may be distant from each other, but actors should not be; this play demands that the history between most characters be inferred from just a few lines.

Having said that, there’s no denying the excellence of individual performances. Michael Pogues’ portrayal of Paul, the young black man who dupes the upper echelons of New York society into believing that he is the son of Sidney Poitier , is subtle, knowing, and the high point of the production. Pogue is as much a dream weaver as his character and his performance is a joy to watch.

Ouisa’s (Karen Yates) progress under Paul’s inspiring, if illusory, influence is driven, engaging, and realistic. Ouisa may never be a Zen master, but she does move from shallow, materialistic social climber to a woman intrigued by the potential for expansive, more meaningful relatedness. The rapid-fire exchanges between Ouisa and her husband, Flan (Eric Leonard), whether about art deals, social machinations, or Paul’s transgressions, are fun displays of technical virtuosity.

Ousia (Karen Yates) dreams about Paul (Michael Pogue) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare, directed by Steve Scott. What a pleasure to see Guy Massey (Dr. Fine) and John Milewski (Geoffrey) well-cast and exemplifying the complete embodiment of small roles. Michael Gonring also does a solid turn as the awkward, closeted young college student that Paul seduces to extract information on the upper classes he seeks to infiltrate.

However, at this particular moment, Six Degrees of Separation may demand more from younger cast members than the adults. Sadly, our palates have been jaded (if not utterly revolted) by a steady stream of obnoxious rich kids in dramas, reality TV shows, and as vapid celebrities in their own right. As of 2009, we suffer from over-exposure to the bad behavior of the celebrity rich. The greatest challenge, through acting and direction, is to humanize the parent-child relationships of the play and to individualize each young person’s role, regardless of how few lines or how spoiled the characters are. Otherwise, the danger is that the audience will tune out and not care.

It matters because this is the background against which Ouisa evolves her relationship—or fantasy of a relationship—with Paul. The rapport that she and Paul creaL-R: Rick (Nick Horst), Elizabeth (Laura Coover) and Paul (Michael Pogue) celebrate exciting news in Eclipse Theatre's production of "Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare, directed by Steve Scott. te during his desperate phone call to her, before his arrest, needs greater contrast with the connections, or lack of them, that Ouisa has with her own children and husband. Likewise, a stronger sense of history between her and Flan would lend body and contrast to the overall production. Every relationship, no matter how simpatico with regard to interests, has its irritations, its compromises, and its resignations. Ouisa’s exposure to Paul magnifies what little Ouisa has settled for while she pursued having it all. Now, will she go on settling or will something have to give?

Rating: «««

All photos by Scott Cooper.

 

"The Strangerer" moving to New York

Theater Oobleck’s acclaimed production of Mickle Maher’s The Strangerer will conclude an extended Chicago run on June 29 before taking the show to New York for performances at the Barrow Street Theatre in the West Village, beginning July 9, 2008. Here is an scene from this productions:

 

Produced by Theater Oobleck, in association with the Barrow Street Theatre, the production is slated for an initial six-week run and will feature original Chicago cast members Guy Massey, Mickle Maher, Colm O’Reilly, and Brian Shaw.

Theater Oobleck’s “The Strangerer” extended

THEATER OOBLECK’S THE STRANGERER EXTENDED

Bush, Kerry and Camus Meet Again at Chopin Theatre Through June 29

Theater Oobleck proudly announces the extension of Mickle Maher’s smash hit The Strangerer at The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, through Sunday, June 29. Mickle Maher, Guy Massey, Colm O’Reilly and Brian Shaw star in The Strangerer, deconstructing the first George Bush/ John Kerry presidential debate with a satirical twist inspired by the Albert Camus classic The Stranger. The Strangerer marks the beginning of Theater Oobleck’s 20th anniversary season.  

The Strangerer, which opened April 4, extends through June 29 at the Chopin Theatre. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 “more if you’ve got it, free if you’re broke.” For information or reservations, call 773.347.1041 or visit www.theateroobleck.com.