REVIEW: Wilson Wants It All (House Theatre of Chicago)

A smart show about an unlikely future

 

Ruth as Hope 1st Speech sharper

The House Theatre of Chicago presents

Wilson Wants It All

By Michael Rohd and Phillip C. Klapperich
Conceived and directed by Michael Rohd
At the
Chopin Theatre, West Town Through March 27 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

"The hard times, the drought…. A shortage so awful that private toilets eventually became unthinkable. A premise so absurd…”

Whoops! Wrong show. That’s from Urinetown, a smart, snappy musical comedy about a dystopian, near-future Hope and Mer w. Wilson on screenAmerica so plagued by overpopulation, water shortages and political upheaval that the government has banned private plumbing. Whereas in the play we’re supposed to be talking about, House Theatre’s Wilson Wants It All — a smart, snappy drama about a dystopian, near-future America plagued by overpopulation, water shortages and political upheaval — the government is working toward a ban on private procreation.

While a musical can get away with an absurd premise, when a drama predicts the near future, it needs basis in present-day facts. U.S. population growth, according to the Census Bureau, is "projected to decrease during the next six decades by about 50 percent." So you can’t credibly blame America’s economic woes on overpopulation, let alone create a crisis so severe that it could lead within 30 years to government-mandated birth control.

This might have been explained away — as, say, the result of a deliberate misinformation campaign, overpopulation as the weapons of mass destruction of 2040 — but it wasn’t. At the outset, then, suspension of disbelief suffers a blow, and the plot continues to batter at it until it unravels fully at play’s end.

Outside of the storyline, though, "Wilson" is a very fine piece of staged science fiction. The grim future world that Michael Rohd, artistic director of the Sojourn Theatre in Portland, Ore., sets out as director so trumps the plot he and The House’s Phillip C. Klapperich have conceived as playwrights that we spend most of Act I delighting in the set, properties and staging.

2 Hopes and Meredith News folks and Wilson

The audience comes in to a clean bare set arranged with six floor-to-ceiling white screens. Both live-action and recorded video intersperse with the staged scenes in fluid and imaginative ways, such as a horrifying interactive billboard that analyzes and reacts to individual consumers. These aren’t new concepts — authors like Frederik Pohl and Harry Harrison wrote about them in the 1960s — yet with many clever details Collette Pollard, the scenic designer, and Lucas Merino, the video designer, ingeniously extrapolate from contemporary devices to show us their terrifying technological future.

We also see some skilled performances. As a kind of Greek chorus of vapid media commentators, Joe Steakley, Elana Elyce, Maria McCullough, Emjoy Gavino, Abu Ansari and Michael E. Smith are right on target, timed to the instant, and add welcome lightness to the play. Wilson in elevator

Some other details of the script work very well, too. America is fragmented into seven political parties. Hardly anyone uses surnames. Most of the characters act younger than their ages. It’s the bigger picture and the major plot lines that don’t make sense.

In Act I, we meet the sprightly Leslie Frame as Ruth: unemployed, 30 years old, and hoping to make a difference in her world. A wan Carolyn Defrin plays her fond, worried but rather naively unworldly mother, Meredith, and Edgar Miguel Sanchez boyishly portrays her earnestly political but inept and — it proves — fickle boyfriend, Remy.

At the other end of the scale, Rebekah Ward-Hays determinedly plays Hope, also 30, the orphaned daughter of a charismatic senator assassinated on the day of her birth. Wilson, the senator’s keen political strategist, laconically portrayed by John Henry Roberts, has been grooming Hope all her life to step into her father’s shoes. An army of aides, headed by Bryan (Kevin Crowley), stand ready to meet her every need. She’s America’s darling, its dream of delivery, and now it’s her time to come forward.

Yet Hope’s not so sure she wants the life Wilson has in store for her. And at the moment of decision, she discovers her Doppelgänger. This futuristic, feminine remake of "The Prince and the Pauper" has potential; the ultimate unveiling of Ruth, Hope and Meredith’s relationship, though tawdry and predictable, has roots in real-life situations.

But by the second act, when the charm of the stagecraft has begun to wear off, revelations of decades-long unrealized love, selfless conspiracy and the ultimate solution ring untrue.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

 

Theater Thursday: House Theatre’s “All the Fame of Lofty Deeds”

Thursday, December 3

All the Fame of Lofty Deeds

The House Theatre of Chicago at the Chopin Theatre
1543 W. Division St., Chicago

loftydeedsphotoEnjoy complimentary pizza in the famous Chopin Theatre lobby before the performance, then stick around for the world premiere production written by rock journalist Mark Guarino and based on and featuring the music and artwork of Bloodshot Records recording artist Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers). This phantasmic journey into the mind of a fictional country music legend is what an episode of Howdy Doody might look like if it were directed by David Lynch. Sadly reflective and yet hilariously surreal, House Theatre’s All the Fame of Lofty Deeds mixes rock biography, live music and stunning visual effects to tell a tripped out tale of the demise of America’s last living cowboy. Stick around after the performance for a talk back with the some of the show’s cast and creative team.
Event begins at 7 p.m.
Show begins at 8 p.m.

TICKETS ONLY: $25
For reservations call 773.251.2195 and mention "Theater Thursdays."

Read our review here.

Review: House Theatre’s “All The Fame Of Lofty Deeds”

A banjo-picking, toe-tapping, tumbleweed-talking good time!

 

The House Theatre of Chicago presents:

All The Fame of Lofty Deeds

At the Chopin Theatre
Written by Mark Guarino
Based on and featuring the music and artwork of Jon Langford
Directed by Tommy Rapley
Thru December 20th (ticket info) 

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

lofty_deeds_poster Chugging whiskey, a forgotten country singer confesses his mistakes to a tumbleweed. The House Theatre of Chicago presents All The Fame of Lofty Deeds. The familiar cowboy skull and cross-guitars painting of Jon Langford is the basis for the character Lofty Deeds, an aging honkytonk singer. Playwright Mark Guarino utilizes the music and artwork of Bloodshot Records recording artist Jon Langford to create this play. As he faces his death, Lofty Deeds struggles with his past decisions. After trading love and family for life on the road under the exploitative pressures of record executives, Lofty is now haunted by the ghosts of musicians past.

Nathan Allen takes on the duality role of Lofty Deeds. He mixes the bitter drunk old man moments with flashback scenes of a naïve country singer at his happiest… on stage. The set design by Lee Keenan feels like a Jon Langford painting with its stark, gritty qualities. Where do has-been country singers go to die? A trailer in the desert, of course. Continuous reminders that this is a show about a man in a painting, director Tommy Rapley has actors don portraits to portray the ghosts of musicians past. On the stage within the stage, the live band adds to the upbeat tempo with memorable songs like “It’s Not Enough” and “The Death of Country Music.”

The story is dark; the forgotten celebrity drinking himself to death. The script is complicated; flashbacks with stories within stories. But like enjoying any country song, don’t get too caught up in the story or words. And appreciate art for art! Take pleasure in the music and the colorful images. What came first – the song or the picture? Langford created the character Lofty Deeds in his song “All The Fame of Lofty Deeds” and in his cowboy skull painting. Guarino took the song and wrote the play. The House Theatre took the play, painting and song have brought it to life on stage. The results, All The Fame of Lofty Deeds is a banjo-picking, toe-tapping, tumbleweed-talking good time.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Continue reading

Opening and Closing this week

chicago_skyline1

show openings

The Adventures of Nervous Boy Gorilla Tango Theatre

Diva! Diva! Divas!Northwestern University Theater

Jinx Appetite Theatre

The Siren Song of Stephan Jay Gould Gorilla Tango Theatre

Juno and the Paycock The Artistic Home

Savage/Love The Viaduct Theater

A Walk in the Woods Redtwist Theatre

 

Chicago_skyline

show closings

The 9/11 Report La Red Music Theatre

Battleprov ComedySportz 

The Bucktown Stand-Up Show Down Gorilla Tango Theatre

Dead Wrong The Factory Theater

Get Comfortable, a Night of Shorts Gorilla Tango Theatre

Girls vs. Boys American Music Theatre Project and The House Theatre of Chicago

The Great American Nudie Spectacular! Theatre Building Chicago

The Hollow Lands Steep Theatre

Never the Sinner Project 891 Theatre

Scientology! The Unauthorized Musical Annoyance Theatre

Sodomites!!! A Musical of Biblical Proportions Annoyance Theatre

Somewhere in Texas Dream Theatre

Steel Mags Chicago Center for the Performing Arts

Storybox Piven Theatre

Two Spoons Bailiwick Repertory

Walker and Dunn Gorilla Tango Theatre

White Rainbows Gorilla Tango Theatre

Theater Thursday – The House Theatre’s “Rose and Rime”

Thursday, March 5

Rose and the Rime

The House Theatre of Chicago

The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division Street  (click on map for bigger picture)

roseandrimeEnjoy an evening in Wicker Park with pizza from Apart Pizza and a performance of Rose and the Rime, the House Theatre’s latest original work by the creators of The Sparrow (my rave review here). The tiny Michigan town of Radio Falls has been trapped in a perpetual winter for a generation. It’s up to a young girl named Rose to save the town from the vicious curse of the Rime witch. This is a modern version of The House’s favorite myth — a reminder that anything powerful enough to fulfill your dreams is powerful enough to destroy them.
Event begins in the lobby at 7:30 p.m.
Show begins at 8 p.m. A talk-back with the cast and crew follows.
TICKETS ONLY $25
For reservations call 773.251.2195 and mention “Theater Thursdays,” or visit www.thehousetheatre.com/tickets.

Reviews for Rose and Rime:

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Theater Thursday brought to you by this outstanding entertainment retailer.

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"

Chicago Tribune’s Top Plays of 2007

The SparrowOsage County setMerchant on Venice 1

springfarm1-small.jpgMerchant on Venice 2

In alphabetical order, here are the Chicago Tribune’s choices for the top 10 plays of 2007:
 

The Adding Machine
(Next Theatre – and soon Off-Broadway)

August: Osage County
(Steppenwolf – and now receiving rave reviews on Broadway)

Between Barack and a Hard Place
(Second City)

The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow
(Collaboraction)

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
(Congo Square)

Merchant on Venice
(Silk Road Theatre Project)

Othello
(Writers Theatre)

Shenendoah
(Marriott Theatre)

The Sparrow
(House Theatre)

A Stead Rain
(Chicago Dramatists)

To see further discussion regarding each show, go to Chris Jones’ The Theater Loop blog posting.