Review: The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? (Remy Bumppo)

     
     

Albee tragedy hits all the notes, but not always in tune

     
     

Martin (Nick Sandys) stands helplessly by as wife Stevie (Annabel Armour) mourns the loss of their perfect marriage in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight.

  
Remy Bumppo Theatre Company presents
    
The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?
      
Written by Edward Albee
Directed by James Bohnen
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 8  |  tickets: $30-$45  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

What an amazing season for Edward Albee fans, as three of his most groundbreaking and influential works have played at some of the city’s most esteemed theaters. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – the classic about the lies a couple tells to keep their dying love – saw a brilliant revival at Steppenwolf, featuring a terrifyingly dominant George played with ferocity by Tracy Letts. The Charles Newell-directed Three Tall Women at Court gorgeously exposed the hopes and regrets of one woman’s life, and starred three stunning actress particularly skilled at capturing the musicality and poetry of Albee’s script. Now Remy Bumppo joins the fray with The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?, Albee’s tragedy about one man’s love for a goat and the cataclysmic damage it inflicts on his perfect marriage.

Stevie (Annabel Armour) and Martin (Nick Sandys) in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight. Lies, hopes, regrets, secrets – these are the universal ideas that Albee operates with, but his plays are genius because of their specificity in plot and style. The game George and Martha play in Woolf, the fluid, interwoven recollections of A, B, and C in Women, and the utter physical destruction of Sylvia are all precisely structured to maximize the impact of their themes. George and Martha’s lie deceives the audience, the memories of the tall women are mirrors of the human experience, and the ruins of Martin (Nick Sandys) and Stevie’s (Annabel Armour) living room represent the devastating effects sexual secrets have on a marriage, bestial or otherwise.

Albee has often compared writing to composing music, and his plays have a specific rhythm in the dialogue that sets the cadence for the action: Woolf tense and discordant like a Bernard Herrmann movie score, Women delicate and aching as a Beethoven sonata, and Sylvia an explosive Wagnerian epic. Dynamics and articulation change, themes are passed around characters like sections of an orchestra. This specificity requires exceptionally skilled actors to capture the complexity of the script, and while Remy Bumppo’s cast of actors plays with passion and commitment, sometimes they have trouble finding the beat.

The opening scene finds Martin preparing for an interview with his good friend Ross (Michael Joseph Mitchell) as Stevie tidies up the living room. The couple jokes about Martin’s failing memory, acts out a Noel Coward pastiche – the perfect picture of a happy marriage, except for the unsavory scent of barn in the air. The British Sandys speaks in an American dialect that occasionally wavers during the quiet moments, like the opening scene, but while distracting, it is not the main problem with the start of the show. There’s an ease to the dialogue that the actors haven’t quite found, and that ease helps cultivate a sense of familiarity and comfort between the husband and wife. Martin and Stevie are accustomed to the wordplay and good-humored jokes of their repartee, but Sandys and Armour have difficulty finding the scene’s relaxed pace. The quiet moments are the most difficult for the cast, but they become stronger as the actors begin to expound their energy in the later scenes, using the rare instances of calm to get a much needed breather.

     
Billy (Will Allan) and Stevie (Annabel Armour) struggle to accept the reality of Martin's betrayal in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight.   Martin (Nick Sandys) tries to comfort troubled son Billy (Will Allan) in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight.
Martin (Nick Sandys) in a scene from Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight. Family friend Ross (Michael Joseph Mitchell) confronts Martin (Nick Sandys) in a scene from Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight.

Martin struggles to get through his interview with Ross, showing little pride or enthusiasm for his architectural achievements and displaying a guarded detachment that forces Ross to probe into the source of his unease. When Ross learns about Martin’s affair with Sylvia, a goat, the play switches into a heightened emotional mode that the actors are most comfortable in. Mitchell’s combination of disgust and disbelief is spot on, while Sandys begins to show the tortured, conflicted soul of Martin’s character. And when Ross sends Stevie a letter detailing Martin’s affair, their lives are shattered beyond repair. All three of the mentioned plays have these breaking points, but they are never the climax of the play: Martha mentions their son, A/B/C disowns her son for being gay, and Ross sends Stevie the letter. After the breaking, the characters are vulnerable enough that Albee can strip them down and reveal their deepest wants and fears.

Annabel Armour shows remarkable depth as she navigates Stevie’s breakdown, portraying a woman whose defenses are slowly worn away as she realizes she isn’t strong enough to hold her marriage together. She finds herself in a situation she could never conceive, her husband now a sexually deviant stranger. Armour and Sandys find the show’s rhythm in the chaotic second scene, one of the best in contemporary theater, spanning the entire emotional spectrum and sparking intense, intellectual debate about sexuality, marriage, and love. Albee takes the extramarital affair to its extreme, and the characters’ honest, painful reactions resonate even stronger in the absurd circumstances. Armour’s deterioration is heartbreaking, recalling her marriage’s joyous past in the context of its sordid present, and lashing out violently as Martin elaborates on the history of his relationship with Sylvia.

Upturning furniture and smashing pottery, Stevie turns the living room into a physical representation of her marriage, as each new revelation from Martin is another dagger in her side. Going back to the music metaphor, when the characters have the melody, during those big moments when everyone is at a forte, the James Bohnen directed Stevie (Annabel Armour) and Martin (Nick Sandys) in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight. production achieves greatness. Stevie has a series of powerful monologues that Armour performs flawlessly, culminating in a series of screams that will give audience members goosebumps. The main conflict succeeds because Martin truly loves both his wife and Sylvia, and Sandys is completely believable in his affections. He performs his monologues with conviction and truth, and it’s easy to see how Stevie could fall in love with such a passionate man. And then you realize he’s talking about sex with a goat.

After Stevie and Martin duke it out, their seventeen year old son Billy (Will Allan) suffers a breakdown of his own, as his parents’ collapsing marriage coincides with his own sexual crisis. There’s a tension in Allen’s physicality that may be a character choice, but is ultimately a distracting one as he occasionally appears uncomfortable and stiff. In light of his father’s attitude toward his homosexuality, Billy reacts to his father’s affair with an appropriate mix of fury and repulsion, but the disturbing shift in Billy and Martin’s relationship is natural because of Sandys and Allen’s chemistry. When Ross returns, Mitchell enters at a lower emotional level than his costars, but he is able to reach their level of intensity by the time Stevie reenters. The play’s final moments build to a stunning release of emotion, and the actors hit all the right notes for the tragic end. As the 100-minute long demolition of a family concludes, the audience is left with a slew of questions regarding the nature of human sexuality, which may be the best part of an Albee play. Long after the production has ended, it’s themes resonate and resurface when we least expect them, because of the powerful experience within the theater.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Martin (Nick Sandys) comforts son Billy (Will Allan) in a moment of turmoil while family friend Ross (Michael Joseph Mitchell) looks on.

The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? continues through May 8th at the Greenhouse Theater Center, with performances Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm. Tickets are $30-$45, and can be purchased online, or by calling 773-404-7336. For more info, go to www.remybumppo.org.

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REVIEW: Night and Day (Remy Bumppo Theatre)

 

The Real Story Vanishing in the Dead of Night

 

Ruth (Linda Gillum) unleashes her rage over the death of Milne at Guthrie (Jeff Cummings) in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, Sept. 22 through Oct. 31 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.  Tickets at www.remybumppo.org or 773-404-7336. Photo by Johnny Knight.

   
Remy Bumppo Theatre Company presents
   
Night and Day
   
Written by Tom Stoppard 
Directed by
James Bohnen
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through October 31  |  tickets: $35-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

What to make of Remy Bumppo’s latest production Night and Day? On one hand, the whole production is a sexy, easy fit. James Bohnen’s spot-on cast slips casually and effortlessly into Tom Stoppard’s dialogue–just like an old-school lounge lizard would slip into a dry martini or a pair of silk pajamas. On the other hand, what with the United Nations releasing its recent report on atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Wagner (Shawn Douglass) risks an upclose interview with dictator Mageeba (Ernest Perry, Jr.) in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, Sept. 22 through Oct. 31 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.  Tickets at www.remybumppo.org or 773-404-7336. Photo by Johnny Knight. Congo, Stoppard’s cunning 1978 play still looks like a bunch of white people sittin’ ‘round, talkin’ while a country made up of darker-skinned people burns all around them. Set in the fictional African nation of Kambawe, the home of copper-king ex-pat Geoffrey Carson (David Darlow at our showing) is hardly the Court of Versailles. Nevertheless, on the brink of civil war, who has time to talk about fickle fame, sex, Scotch or the role of the media? These characters do.

Into this jaded milieu, Stoppard interjects the question: Does a free press matter? Define what you mean by a free press, etc. It’s this et cetera that Bohnen’s actors handle so well. Dick Wagner (Shawn Douglass), an Australian-born reporter for the Globe, solidly provides most of the sly, tough cynicism through his omnipresent worry over getting scooped. His colleague and comrade, photojournalist George Guthrie (Jeff Cummings), brings battle weariness and much-needed urgency and passion to a very talky show. Greg Matthew Anderson, playing freelance journalist Jacob Milne, achieves likeability and freshness with a character who sees no problem with blurring the line between serious and tabloid news. If Night and Day reveals anything, it’s Stoppard’s gift for prophecy.

These few, these happy few, descend on Carson’s home, much to the chagrin of his wife, Ruth (Linda Gillum), because he possesses an untapped, unsevered line and a Telex machine to get the news out to the West. They are the true seekers of the story,  since the rest of Western press is still hanging out in the lobby of the local Sheraton. Carson also has connections with the rebel leader, Colonel Shimbu, whose Ruth (Linda Gillum) seduces young reporter Milne (Greg Matthew Anderson) in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, Sept. 22 through Oct. 31 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.  Tickets at www.remybumppo.org or 773-404-7336. Photo by Johnny Knight. scheduled late-night meeting with the dictatorial President Mageeba (Ernest Perry, Jr.) leads to devastating consequences.

Politics aside, Stoppard situates blithe and cynical Ruth at the center of his satire, being the only character whose unspoken thoughts are transparent to the audience and being the one whose name–meaning mercy, sympathy and compassion–contrasts starkly with the ruthlessness all around her. Cherchez la femme, right? And what a femme she is. Gillum doesn’t hit a wrong note, negotiating dialogue directly to the audience and exchanges with her fellow actors like a master magician. Hers may be a performance that redefines the word glib. She excoriates the tabloid press for their paparazzi stalking of her divorce and marriage to Carson in one scene, only to fall for the young, idealistic defender of the tabloid press in another. I’m still pondering how she makes it look so easy, believable, and above all, sympathetic.

For the most part, Night and Day flows as smoothly single malt Scotch from a never-ending stream. Bohnen successfully builds tension with Guthrie’s suspicion of Carson, Milne and Guthrie’s departure to meet Colonel Shimbu, and the anticipated, nerve-racking visit from President Mageeba.

Perry’s entrance as Mageeba, certainly does not disappoint. He’s every bit as gracious, intelligent and threatening as a Western-educated, media-conscious despot should be. Regrettably, Mageeba’s ad hoc interview with Wagner drags and the play’s bit of stage violence comes off as unconvincing. It seems strange that Remy Bumppo should stumble here at such a critical moment. My hopeful assumption is that this was an off performance in an otherwise impeccable production.

Wagner (Shawn Douglass) gives Milne (Greg Matthew Anderson) a lesson in the ethics of journalism in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, Sept. 22 through Oct. 31 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.  Tickets at www.remybumppo.org or 773-404-7336. Photo by Johnny Knight.

Does Stoppard ever resolve the question of the necessity of a free press? Tough to say—on the one hand, you don’t want the Mageeba’s of the world in charge of what’s fit to print; on the other, the media is a capitalist enterprise that trivializes critical news and foregrounds trivia, until all information turns into fodder before its gaping maw. Guthrie’s defense of a free press remains the most poetic in the play:

People do awful things to each other. But it’s worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark. Information is light. Information, in itself, about anything, is light.

That is a plea appropriate to 1978, long before the 24-hour news cycle and the digital age. Now we are awash in information, both qualified and unqualified, and we can hardly now call all information light.

We few, we lucky few citizens of open, industrialized nations have, for a long time, used the media as much as a distraction from daily cares as for timely and relevant news. That’s a very human tendency. All the same, I found myself wanting to turn away from the diverting chatter of Stoppard’s principal characters. I grew weary of the same jaded arguments from people still living in a bubble of white and colonial privilege. I longed for Stoppard’s most silent character of the play, Francis (Michael Pogue), the Carson’s servant, to report his truth and have his perspective brought front and center.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Extra Credit

Guthrie (Jeff Cummings) relays to Wagner (Shawn Douglass) and Carson (David Darlow), the tragic end of reporter Milne's life, in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, Sept. 22 through Oct. 31 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets at www.remybumppo.org or 773-404-7336.   Photo by Johnny Knight.

Important Event on October 11th:

 

October 11: "Is the Truth Front Page News?" Journalist Panel

A free journalist panel hosted by WBEZ’s Richard Steele

Performance excerpts from Night and Day, highlighting the risks and responsibilities of foreign correspondents, will springboard a charged panel conversation, hosted by WBEZ’s Richard Steele, on where readers now turn to get the truth.

 

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REVIEW: The Island (Remy Bumppo)

Friendship comes first in revival of Fugard prison drama

 the-island2

Remy Bumppo presents:

The Island

by Athol Fugard
directed by James Bohnen
through March 7th (more info)

reviewed by Oliver Sava

Athol Fugard’s The Island begins with prisoners Winston (Kamal Angelo Bolden) and John (La Shawn Banks) shoveling sand into wheelbarrows on opposite sides of the stage. When each prisoner’s wheelbarrow is full, he empties it into the other man’s freshly dug pit, returns to his original position, and then repeats the entire process. their only redemption the foreman’s whistle. This opening sequence is monotonous and continues for nearly ten minues, but is extremely effective in showing how South Africa’s Robben Island prison exhausted its population into complacency. When not being mentally and physically tortured, the two cell mates rehearse a stripped-down Antigone for the prison’s talent show, with Winston as Antigone, much to his disdain, and John as her dominating uncle Creon.

The relationship between these two men is the anchor of the production, directed by James Bohnen, and Banks brings a mature, caring energy to the stage that nurtures Bolden’s more brutish Winston. What this season’s FugardChicago mini-festival – which includes Timeline Theatre‘s Master Harold…and the Boys  (currently playing) and Court Theatre‘s Sizwe Banzi Is Dead (this past May) – has shown thus far is the playwright’s ability to develop beautiful friendships from the dreary circumstances of apartheid South Africa, and the two actors of The Island capture the complicated dynamics of their characters’ friendship.

The Island, like most of Fugard’s work, is heavy on political commentary, and while the writing is intelligent and thought-provoking, the language often becomes very formal, too much like a reading of an essay rather than real human dialogue. During the performance of Antigone this feels appropriate, but feels out of place when it appears in the scenes of the two men speaking casually, and Fugard’s intellectual perception of prison ends up sacrificing much of the visceral pain seen in the opening in favor of bookish monologues that veer into heady territory.

the-island1

Athol Fugard is able to probe into the emotional damage inflicted by the prison system when John learns that his sentence has been reduced, joyous news that means an end to the bond that Winston and he have formed over the past two years. Bolden’s reaction is pitch-perfect, and the overwhelming sense of hope and relief shared by the two actors in the initial moments following the announcement is one of the show’s highlights. But as the painful reality of Winston’s life sentence begins to sink in, envious feelings become hostility, putting the duo’s production of Antigone at risk. As the men overcome their anguish and shame together, they reveal how friendship can heal the broken spirit, a theme so prevalent in the playwright’s work that it must be true.

 

Rating: ★★½

 

Creative Team: Athol Fugard, Winston Ntshona, John Kami (playwrights), James Bohnen (Director), JR Lederie (Light Design), Tim Morrison (Set Design), Rachel Laritz (Costume Design), Victoria Delorio (Sound Design)

Cast: La Shawn Banks, Austin Talley, Kamal Angelo Bolden

 Recommended production links:

Review: Remy Bumppo’s “Heroes”

“Heroes” is a 4-star salute

Heroes-cast

Remy Bumppo Theatre presents:

Heroes

by Gerald Sibleyras
translated by Tom Stoppard
directed by James Bohnen
thru November 29th  (buy tickets)

reviewed by Katy Walsh 

A head of shrapnel, gimp leg and derangement have never been funnier. Remy Bumppo’s Heroes brings three World War I vets together for convalescent camaraderie. Set in an old-soldier home, our heroes amuse each other with tales of heroes-cast2nun slapping, terrace invasion defense strategies and escape plans with a 200-pound dog statue in tow. It’s not your grandpa’s war show about reliving the glory days of WW I. Instead, Heroes is about three outcasts (four if you count the dog) banning together in united tolerance for the final battle, old age.

The attack happens instantaneously. You are held prisoner to hysterical dialogue from the first few lines. Witty repartee and strong character development is the ammo used by playwright Gerald Sibleyras and translator Tom Stoppard. Director James Bohnen sends his best men to the front with inspirational guidance. The troops don’t disappoint. Insane ideas presented in a logical manner, David Darlow (Gustave) leads the charge with dead pan precision in delivery. Goading his buddies to go to Indochina instead of on a stupid picnic or reading and responding to other people’s mail, Darlow is a lovable and hysterical curmudgeon. Paranoid that the head nun is trying to kill him, Roderick Peeples (Phillippe) brings a physical comedy element that includes continuously fainting during the show until he rouses himself by shouting, “Take them from the rear, Captain!” (You learn late in the show that has nothing to do with war.) Completing the nonstop able squadron, Mike Nussbaum (Henri) is the charming 25 year resident vet of the institution. Shy but sane, Nussbaum ultimately commands the trio’s every activity with blunt acceptance and quips like, “You are all barking mad except for the dog.”

heroes-cast3

I’ve never served in a war, but I most definitely bond with friends over enemy activities. Heroes is an experience in friendship. Observing the ensemble’s interaction, you can’t help but find comparisons to your own life. Everyone has that friend who always asks “Am I getting worse?” to which your group responds, “I haven’t noticed.” Or the pal who hates everything, refuses to participate and then wants to know if anyone missed him to which your group responds, “Nobody gave a damn.” Or the buddy who goes along with the crazy plan right up until someone wants to transport a 200 pound dog statue up a mountain. Friends are the heroes that help you conquer life’s battles. Go with one to see this show! Hint for the show: watch man’s best friend during the final scene and curtain call.

 

Rating: ««««

 

Aside: The hero to my left, James, says Heroes was an “all star salute.”

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Remy Bumppo’s 2009-2010 Season: Friendships tested….

Remy Bumppo’s

2009-2010 Theatre Season

 

2009-10: Friendships Tested…

Heroes Heroes
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by James Bohnen
October 14-November 29
(buy tickets)

 

The Island The Island
By Athol Fugard
Directed by James Bohnen
January 27-March 7
(buy tickets)

 

les liaisons Les Liaisons Dangereuses
By Christopher Hampton
Directed by David Darlow
March 17-May 2
(buy tickets)

 

 

Box Office: 773.404.7336; Website: www.remybumppo.org

NOTE: All performances at the Greenhouse Theater 

Remy Bumppo announces 2008/09 season

Remy Bumppo 2008/09 Season

 

The Voysey Inheritance

by Harley Granville-Barker

adapted by David Mamet

directed by James Bohnen

featuring Artistic Associate David Darlow

David Mamet’s sleek adaptation of Granville-Barker’s 1905 play feels as if it were written yesterday.  When Edward Voysey learns of his father’s corrupt dealings within the family business, he knows there is only one ethical solution.  But his moral stance conflicts with his siblings’ fierce defense of their incomes and the family name.  This drama of manners marries the wit and passionate dialogue of George Bernard Shaw with the ethical conflics of Arthur Miller.

September 18 – November 2, 2008

 

 

The Marriage of Figaro

by Beaumarchais

adapted by Ranjit Bolt

directed by Jonathan Berry

featuring Artistic Associates Greg Matthew Anderson and Annabel Armour

Ranjit Bolt, the adaptor of Remy Bumppo’s viciously comic Tartuffe, pens this retelling of Beaumarchais’ play made famous in opera form by Mozart.  The lustful Count Almaviva has set his affections on his wife’s chambermaid, who is also the fiancee of his valet, Figaro.  To protect his love, the cunning servant Figaro must outsmart his master.  His plotting reveals several other sexual games that culminate in a night of mistaken identities and deliciously funny farce.

November 13, 2008 – January 4, 2009

 

 

Old Times

by Harold Pinter

directed by James Bohnen

featuring Artistic Associates Linda Gillum and Nic Sandys

The season concludes with a masterpiece by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter.  The nature of truth, memory and ownership are questioned in this hauntingly provacative game of marital chess.  When a married couple receives an unexpected visit from an old roommate, the reunion sparks anything but pleasant conversation.  As they reminisce, inconsistencies are revealed, and one of the three becomes the desired possession in an impassioned war over control of the past.

April 23 – June 7, 2009

  

For more info on Remy Bumppo and the upcoming season, including subscriptions and ticket specials, call 773-244-8119, or go to www.remybumppo.org.