REVIEW: Daredevils’ Hamlet (The Neo-Futurists)

 

“Jackass” Meets The Bard

 

 

Jay Torrence, John Pierson, Trevor Dawkins, Ryan Walters, Anthony Courser, Brennan Buhl - from Neo-Futurists' "Daredevil's Hamlet"

   
The Neo-Futurists present
  
Daredevils’ Hamlet
  
Written by Ryan Walters and ensemble
Directed by
Halena Kays
at
Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland (map)
through September 25  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Only in culture centers like Chicago could there be a theater audience savvy enough to completely comprehend this show’s connections between Shakespeare and professional wrestling, the indecisive Hamlet’s crisis of confidence and the endangered masculinity of modern metrosexuals; the actors’ own neuroses and the Shakespearean characters they’re most drawn to. We deserve this show, if only because it won’t be lost on us.

Ryan Walters, from Neo-Futurists' "Daredevil's Hamlet" In 2005 Ryan Walters’ band of jumpsuited or strait-jacketed daredevils created their first edition of exuberant “jackassery.” But, intent on putting statements behind their stunts, five years later the quintet are riffing on “Hamlet,” using their cartwheels, tumbling, acrobatics, and hoop diving to illustrate the melancholy Dane’s identity crisis and adding their own autobiographical confessions to this absorbing “afterword.” (Each gets to answer questions about their dads, whether they would avenge their father’s murder by exterminating their uncle, and whether they are men of action or men of thought.)

The audience is warmed up as an interactive game of “Four-Square” opens the inquiry. It’s followed by various action-oriented depictions of scenes from the tragedy: Young Ryan Walters rides a tricycle as he attempts a small-scale Knievel-like jump across a wooden ramp. (The exact link to Hamlet escaped me here except that he was also reciting the “What a piece of work is man!” speech.) The graveyard scene is depicted with the performers naked in black light with tiny skulls lit up as codpieces over their privates. Ophelia’s drowning occurs in a real flower-strewn trough, a kind of life-size baptismal font. Though the fight between Hamlet and Laertes is reduced to overhyped WWF combat, the sword fight finale is performed exactly as written because, of course, the daredevils can’t overdo the original when it comes to exaggerated overkill.

John Pierson, from Neo-Futurists' "Daredevil's Hamlet"

These 100 minutes teem with fascinating connections where art deconstructs art and life imitates itself. Buhl, stretching a bit, compares Hamlet’s pursuit of justice with his own memories of “wild play” in a kiddie pool that got out of control. Anthony Courser prefers to portray an action figure like Robin Hood whose black-and-white status as a legend is preferable to Hamlet’s moral ambiguity. John Pierson describes the fasting and sacrifices he intends to make throughout the show’s run (including sex and modern food). Jay Torrence is fascinating by Horatio’s loyalty to Hamlet and depicts it with some homoerotic interaction with Walters. Finally, the show’s conceiver, Ryan Walters, playing the pseudo crazy, roller-skating Prince of Denmark, eloquently soliloquizes on the transience of life and its poignant surrogate, the theater, as he bends over an audience member who he intends to never forget. There’s even a brief interlude in which an unnamed actress enters as Gertrude to make a rather convincing defense of Hamlet’s much maligned mother.

It’s not the sometimes indulgent, hit-and-run skits that convince here; they’re clever distractions within a larger illustrated lecture. What wears you down and finally wins you over is the fascinating totality of this free-form action portrait of a play that’s as seemingly inexhaustible as the sun. “Hamlet” and Hamlet are everything we can project onto them and Daredevil’s Hamlet exposes us every bit as much as it illuminates a rather old script.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Trevor Dawkins and Ryan Walters, from Neo Futurists' "Daredevil's Hamlet"

All photos by Candice Conner / Oomphotography

   

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Review: Hypocrite Theatre’s ‘Oedipus’

  

 

Stacey Stoltz in 'Oedipus'. Picture taken by Paul Metreyeon

 

Oedipus
Adapted and Directed by Sean Graney
The Hypocrites, May 31-July 12 (buy tickets here )

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

What is not laudable about this production of Oedipus? Sean Graney’s rockin’ adaptation harkens back to the first productions of Hair, when our country badly needed to let the sunshine in. We need, these days, that same purifying light. Rare is the theatrical event that can stand on its own, in terms of theme, artistry, and invention, yet also address, in profound and universal ways, the sickness of our nation.

The Hypocrites do Oedipus as rock opera! Yet it is a rock opera that preserves the poetry and tragedy of Classical tradition, without slipping into the maudlin solipsism to which rock opera is prone. Inspired by Ted Hughes’ translation of Seneca’s Oedipus, Sean Graney maintains a healthy devotion to the history and beauty of this ancient myth, while still managing to kick out the props and go for something fresh–something both the kids and the old Classical Lit geeks can thoroughly enjoy.

Steve Wilson and Stacy Stoltz in 'Oedipus".  Picture taken by Paul Metreyeon.If the set were not enough to create a carnival mood, with it bright colors, its McDonald’s style plastic picnic tables, its totem pole booth ringed with lights, or its pink painted filing cabinets growing a cactus out of one open drawer, then the actors tossing around balloons between themselves and the audience engender a carnival atmosphere. The set design expresses both the horror and mock horror aspects of the production, which one discovers upon noticing that the blue plastic sheets, enclosing the set from floor to ceiling, are dripped with thick red paint, simultaneously suggesting both blood and fake blood.

This strikes a balanced interrogation between the plastic and the real. Stacy Holtz, as the Blind Seer, may sing about the emptiness of life and, therefore, the emptiness of losing life; but her final rock solo, as Jocasta, brings the emptying loss of life to its raw, devastating conclusion. Thank God–or the gods–and/or the terrific cast—that, here, we have a show that uses irony and distancing to intense theatrical purpose, not as a faddish ploy. What is done to Oedipus (Steve Wilson), by fate or by his people, is truly horrifying. Yet humor is played for all it’s worth—whether between Creon (Halena Kays) and Oedipus jockeying for position or the gratuitous tongue-wrestling between Oedipus and Jocasta.

One wonders whether can be no “over the top” for this production precisely because it takes place “under the big top”. Yet, what grounds and sustains it is its unmistakable, unyielding commitment to poetry. If anything, Sean Graney’s careful preservation of poetic language consecrates this theatrical space, as surely as it consecrates Oedipus’s struggle for the truth that will demand his ultimate sacrifice. While Graney has never had a classical education, his work relies on self-education, a thorough love for the tragedians, and copious research, both prior to writing as well as all the way through development.

Steve Wilson and Halena Kays in The Hypocrites' 'Oedipus'.  Picture taken by Paul Metreyeon.“Sean and Stacey and I have worked together close to 10 years now,” says Halena Kays. “We all worked together for 4.48 Psychosis. Sean has very definite ideas. He’s really clear about the world the play is going to be in. We would get the script filled with clues about how the tone would change, things like, ‘they’re underwater,’–things he knows for himself and his instincts. I find that the best way to work with Sean is to make really strong choices. The actors’ contributions come through in the minutiae—the clarity, the magic and the fun.”

The delicate minutiae wield the greatest political punch. The first moment Oedipus appears on stage, a surgical mask covers his face—recalling all our panics over H1N1, SARS, and AIDS. But diseases that mark a country “rotting from within” do not end with viruses. Oedipus may believe a little too completely in his own legend, as self-made man and conqueror of the Hell Bitch. Steve Wilson brings realistic pathos to a man who will nobly prevail past the point where others would rationalize their ideals away. Such an uncompromising nature will lead him to be self-sacrificing. It will also lead him to commit torture. For all who care about the power of theater to reveal our political, psychological, and spiritual selves, hie thee to this show for shame. Or live thee in the shame of our nation’s present state without it.

Rating: ««««

Venue:  The Building Stage
Location: 412 N. Carpenter Street, 2 blocks south of Grand, Blue line to Grand or via the #8 or #56 bus.  (Click on map below for larger view.)

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Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (TimeOut Chicago)

Court Theatre's "Caroline or Change", six out of six stars The Hypocrite's "Our Town" "Million Dollar Quartet" at the Apollo Theater Steep Theatre's "Breathing Corpses"

 

TimeOut Chicago‘s Christopher Platt and Kris Vire present their top 10 Chicago theater picks of 2008:

 

1. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); actors: Kate Fry, E.Faye Butler
     
2. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director), actors: Jennifer Grace (as Emily), David Cromer (narrator)
 
     
3. Speech and Debate  (American Theatre Company)
by Stephen Karam
Standouts: PJ Paparelli (ATC Artistic Director); performances: Patrick Andrews, Jared McGuire, Sadieh Rifai
 
     
4. Uncle Vanya (TUTA TheatreChicago)
by Anton Chekhov
Standouts: Zeljko Djukic (director), Yasen Peyankov  and Peter Christensen (translators), Martin Andrew (designer)
 
     
5. Miss Julie  (The Hypocrites)
by August Strindberg
Standouts: Sean Graney (director); performances: Stacy Stoltz, Greg Hardigan
 
     
6. Titus Andronicus  (Court Theatre)
by William Shakespeare
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), ; performances: Timothy Edward Kane, Hollis Resnik
 
     
7. Fake Lake  (The Neo-Futurists)
by Sharon Greene
Standouts: Halena Kays (director), Welles Park pool, Mikhail Fiksel
 
     
8. Breathing Corpses  (Steep Theatre)
by Laura Wade
Standouts: Robin Witt (director), Marcus Stephen (set designer)
 
     
9. Million Dollar Quartet  (Goodman, Apollo Theater)
Standouts: Levi Kreis (as Jerry Lee Lewis), Lance Guest (Johnny Cash), Rob Lyon (Carl Perkins), Eddie Clendening (Elvis Presley)
 
     
10. As Told by the Vivian Girls  (Dog & Pony Theatre)
by Devin de Mayo
Standouts: Devin de Mayo (director)
 

 

To see the TimeOut Chicago description of each of these shows, click here.

New Artistic Director for Barrel of Monkeys

New Artistic Director for BOM

Barrel of Monkeys announces their new, permanent Artistic Director will be long- time company member Luke Hatton, as of the beginning of the eleventh anniversary, 2008-2009 season on September 1st. He started with the ensemble in fall 2000, right after graduating with a BS in Theatre from Northwestern University, and began performing and teaching for many of BOM’s in-school residencies. Hatton then served as a member of the Teacher Corps, a select group of lead teachers within the company, and as a Program Officer. In 2003, he began directing in-school and public performances for BOM, and in 2007, he served as Artistic Associate for the company. Hatton has also worked extensively as a performer in Chicago with Steppenwolf Theatre, The Neo-Futurists, The Hypocrites, The Gift, Lifeline, and with Geva Theatre Center in New York. He has directed acclaimed theatrical productions with Steep Theatre and Phalanx Theaters. As an arts educator, Luke has developed and taught curriculum with After School Matters and Adventure Stage Chicago.

weirdgrandma Interim Artistic Director Laura Grey will leave the position to continue to perform with Second City etc’s “Campaign Supernova” (and will also continue to perform in the BOM ensemble), and founding Artistic Director Halena Kays will begin a University of Texas, Austin, MFA, after recently returning to Chicago to direct The Neo-Futurists’ “Fake Lake.”

After three years as Production Stage Manager for BOM’s Monday night show “That’s Weird, Grandma,” Maggie Fullilove-Nugent joins the staff as part-time Company Manager. She is also the Production Manager for The Hypocrites and North Park University Theatre. As a freelance lighting designer and technician, she has worked on over 50 productions with companies including 500 Clown, House, Building Stage, Lifeline and Artistic Home.

Best of luck to Luke!!

Luke Hatton, as seen in "Big Riders"