Review: Sketchbook Reverb (Collaboraction)

  
  

High-energy company serves up so-so sample platter

  
  

Dan Krall, James Zoccoli, Kim Lyle, Saverio Truglia, Collaboraction, Sketchbook Reverb

   
Collaboraction presents
   
Sketchbook Reverb
  
Directed by Anthony Moseley
at
Flat Iron Arts Building, 1575 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru March 27  | 
tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Collaboraction has to be one of the most energetic theatre companies on the planet. If you’ve ever seen a past Sketchbook, the company’s signature showcase for new avant-garde works, you understand what I’m talking about. Anthony Moseley and his band of merry artists are like a bunch of teenagers who have forgotten to take their Adderall. The creativity bubbles forth, frequently with a lack of clear direction and focus, making the final product a sight to see but not always a comprehensible sight.

Saverio Truglia, Sketchbook Reverb, Amy Speckien, CollaboractionSketchbook REVERB certainly delivers on whimsy and inventiveness. And just like the eponymous annual series from which its one acts have been borrowed, its inconsistent. Some of the pieces are absolutely brilliant, reaching intense levels of poignancy through bare-knuckled honest comedy. Other times, the wackiness of the plays feels put on in a desperate attempt to appear cutting edge and quirky. When it works, it works. And when it doesn’t, you eye the program seeing what’s next on the menu.

Let’s first discuss some of the winners. “My Yeti Dreams”, written by Lisa Dillman, is a soliloquy delivered by a woman (Laura Shatkus) who falls in love with a grunting, half-naked Yeti (HB Ward). It’s an absurd premise with honest and relatable underpinnings. This woman finds freedom in her love for something so free of social mores. Shatkus delivers a breathy, heartfelt monologue as Ward jumps and grunts with gusto.

Another highlight of the night was “I’ll Never Tell You”, written by Stephen Cone. In this short, a man (HB Ward) is mourning privately over his wife’s corpse (Laura Shatkus). The man reveals to his wife things he regrets not telling her, specifically his many infidelities. Despite the fact that he’s a chronic cheater, the man’s awkwardness and sadness overshadow any judgment we may reserve for him. Instead, we are compelled to sympathize. This time, Ward delivers the monologue, and he does it with great patience and passion. It’s a beautiful performance.

The last high point of the night was “The Lurker Radio Hour”, written by Drew Dir. The short takes the form of an old radio show, which is always a fun format to see staged. The show’s host Steve Larker (James Zoccoli) dawns a sinister-sounding voice while his assistant Alice (Amy Speckien) creates the sound effects. Steve’s wife has left him, and so he uses the radio show as a platform to beg her to return. Meanwhile, Steve is blind to the fact that Alice pines for him. It’s a tale of unrequited love, played out with comedic sincerity by the talented Zoccoli. Speckien does a great job with amplifying the laughs as the timid sidekick.

Cast of "The Untimely Death of Adolf Hitler," part of "Sketchbook REVERB." Photo by Saverio Truglia.

The show’s five other plays range from mildly amusing to aggravating. “The Deep Blue Sea”, by Keith Huff, is bloated with stale, overwrought dialogue. “Tuning in El Paso”, by Ellen Fairey, tries too hard to appeal to our emotions. “Dating: A Cautionary Tale for Facebook Users”, by Ira Gamerman, is like a stand-up routine that doesn’t know when to stop. “A Domestic Disturbance at Little Fat Charlie’s Seventh Birthday Party”, by Andrew Hobgood, is a poor man’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. And “The Untimely Death of Adolph Hitler”, by Andy Grigg, is a decent sketch that quickly wears out its premise.

If you’re a fan of past Sketchbook shows, you’ll definitely enjoy Reverb. If you’ve always wanted to see a Collaboraction performance, Reverb is a great introduction. If you enjoy consistently good, grounded theatre, then Reverb probably isn’t for you. Personally, I applaud Collaboraction for taking risks and not always succeeding, and I appreciate the opportunities they give to new playwrights. They serve to remind other companies that artistic vision should always come before critical recognition.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
   
  

Pictured: HB Ward (Yeti) and Laura Shatkus (Christine) in "My Yeti Dreams," part of "Sketchbook REVERB" presented by Collaboraction. Photo by Saverio Truglia.

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REVIEW: Legion (Wildclaw Theatre)

 

Spooky special-effects; original music accent this horror-fest

 
 
Wildclaw Theatre presents:
 
Legion
 
adapted by Charley Sherman
directed by
Anne Adams
at
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave.
through April 18th
(more info)

Reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

The story of Legion, the sequel to “The Exorcist”, has taken many forms: first as a 1983 novel by William Peter Blatty, then as a film (The Exorcist III) and now it is a play, adapted by Wildclaw’s Artistic Director Charley Sherman, and presented by WildClaw Theatre.

WildClaw’s favored subject matter is the frightening and supernatural. When horror is done right it’s one of the most fun and satisfying types of show to see – the audience feels like a unified place when everyone is afraid of the same boogeyman.  The boogeyman here is two-fold. The string of murders that start Legion off match the M.O. of the Gemini Killer, who was supposed to have been killed twelve years before the start of the play. And of course being the Exorcist sequel, it must feature the worst villain in the history of literature: Satan. So what exactly is going on? Who is committing the murders? I’ll never tell…

Legion takes it’s name from a biblical quote that Blatty uses at the beginning of the novel The Exorcist: “Now when [Jesus] stepped ashore, there met him a certain man who for a long time was possessed by a devil … And Jesus asked him, saying, ‘What is thy name?’ and he said, Legion … “ Given the references to Mafia murders, the Vietnam war and the Holocaust that Blatty references after, it makes one wonder what exactly this Legion is. Is it’s the darkness and rage of humanity that makes this Satanic literary duo so terrifying? It’s not simply the devil. In contemporary society of different beliefs, cultures and mindsets, a biblical tale of demonic possession is not enough to strike fear into a universal audience. But you don’t have to believe in the Christian bible to think Legion is scary.

The main character, Lt. Kinderman is Jewish. His consistent references to kibitzes and Matzo are enough to make one a Meshugina, but the incorporating of a religion other than Christianity reminds the audience that this is a story about man, not God. Len Bajenski’s very endearing yet, (there is no other way to say this) Colombo-esque performance as the detective is more familiar than derivative and is a nice counter-balance to the heavy, daunting subject matter.

LEGION_strip

Despite it’s serious side, Legion never forgets to be entertaining, especially with the over the top special effects skillfully done by Fraser Coffeen. The audience gets to witness the horrific crime scenes with Lt. Kinderman, bodies and all. Of course, the gore does not look real but there is a fun, campy theatricality to the poor victims in Mr. Blatty’s dark tale.

The adaptation takes great care to loyally mirror the book on stage, which can lead to information overload. Trying to cram the density of a novel into a two-act play is too much: too many characters, too many ideas, and too many subplots. Didactic speeches about the existence of God and the nature of man can be cut down substantially. The large cast still relies on double and triple casting of almost all of the actors, and the effect is confusing and overwhelming. Legion soars when it distances itself from the novel and finds its strength as an independent play. The best example of this is a comedia del arte inspired flashback to the childhood of the Gemini killer that is startling and extremely engaging.

The glue that holds this entire production together is the fantastic original music by Scott Tallarida. The screeching strings are reminiscent of the score from the movie Psycho. The music is both terrorizing and humorous, to a very entertaining end.

Director Anne Adams has made a creepy play. Her instincts about when to be campy and when to be down to earth are dead on. The staging of some of the larger group scenes are usually clean and precise, although some staging drifts into clutterdom. Not to give anything away, but Cheryl Roy is fantastically creepy in the ensemble and Scott T. Barsotti gives a performance that will make one jump in one’s seat – perhaps to one’s embarrassment.

Legion is a play that lives in the dark and the light: it’s political and scary and light and cinematic all at the same time. It’s unafraid to push the limits of on-stage horror to the maximum. While not a perfect production, this play hits all the right marks for a fun night out.

 
Rating: ★★½
 

 

   

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