Review: Agnes of God (Hubris Productions)

  
  

What is truth and what is a miracle?

  
  

Sara Pavlak, Lorraine Freund, Barbara Roeder Harris - Hubris Productions' Agnes of God

  
Hubris Productions presents
   
Agnes of God
  
Written by John Pielmeir
Directed by Jacob Christopher Green
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through April 16  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The human mind is a miraculous and wondrous thing. In the play Agnes of God, not only is an atheist asked to suspend logic, she’s also asked to question the nature of miracles in modern times. Hubris Productions presents a luminous and beautifully acted production directed by Jacob Christopher Green. The moment I sat down and looked at the set, I was transported back to the convent adjacent to my grammar school. It was stark and yet serene in its simplicity, just like the OSP convent of my childhood. There is a desk that serves as a place of authority for both Mother Miriam Ruth and Dr. Livingstone. Otherwise, it’s the ascetic and well-scrubbed world of a religious order.

Barbara Roeder Harris, as psychiatrist Dr. Livingstone, shines in the role of someone who is appointed to deem whether a horrific act was insanity or murder. The emotional range required of the Livingstone character would be Grand Guignol performance in the hands of a lesser actress, but Harris’ Livingstone is a perfect balance of restraint and fierce protector, determined to discover the truth even at the risk of her own beliefs.

Lorraine Freund (Mother Miriam Ruth) inhabits the habit. I was stunned at how much she recalled my second grade teacher, Sister Vienny. Here, Mother Miriam Ruth is a tightly wound character who unravels with surprising profanity and knowledge of the real world outside the cloistered convent. Freund plays Mother Miriam with a sly sense of humor, a steel-trap mind, and a warped protectiveness. Mother Miriam chose the world of contemplative religious life after a perceived failing at the art of being a wife and mother who raised two angry atheists. The question lingers – did Mother Miriam need a miracle to renew her faith, or does she manipulate a mentally ill girl to cover a deep lack of faith?  Freund is ramrod straight, shielded by an otherworldly calm. She is chillingly wonderful and the nun of my nightmares.

Sara Pavlak (Agnes) literally has the face of an angel. She is heart-wrenching as a naïve and abused girl who has never seen the outside world. Agnes would possibly be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome as well as Disassociative Identity Disorder in these modern times of needing a label for everything. This Agnes is buried in her trauma and possibly a miraculous anomaly that cannot be explained. The stigmata that bursts from her hands is a shock that draws audible gasps from the audience. Ms. Pavlak so deeply inhabits the pure novitiate that the viscera of blood on her gleaming white habit is almost obscene. One cannot imagine this innocent waif being invaded by the carnality of intercourse but when she is in the throes of hypnosis-induced orgasm there is a raw sensuality that is at once powerful and transcendent.

These three actresses play seamlessly off of each other. The timing and movement is very important in such a stark production. There is not much room for missteps and they make none.

Jacob Christopher Green’s direction is seamless and well modulated. This is a drama that has the potential to go way over the top, and agonizing to watch (as in the case of the 1985 film featuring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, and Meg Tilly). Playwright John Pielmeir’s script is made for the subtleties of the stage and for understated performances that explode and knock you back in your seat. Brava ladies, Bravo Mr. Green, and kudos to Hubris Productions.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Agnes of God runs through April 16th, with performances Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 3:00pm. Performances are at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln. Tickets are $25, and can be bought online or by calling 773-404-7336.

The 2011 season of Hubris Productions will donate portions of their proceeds to Humboldt Park Social Services. It is the Hubris mission statement that they provide entertainment, inspiration, education, and charitable giving. It is a worthy cause and definitely worth your time in the theater.

  
  

REVIEW: 9 to 5 the Musical (Broadway in Chicago)

     
     

Though uneven, show is still loads of nostalgic fun

  
  

9 to 5 by Dolly Parton - Broadway Tour - Bank of America Theatre

  
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
9 to 5: the Musical
  
Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book by
Patricia Resnick
Directed by
Jeff Calhoun
at
Bank of America Theatre, Chicago, (map)
through Jan 30  |  tickets: $32-$95  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Unless you were at Wednesday night’s opening of 9 to 5: the Musical, you probably didn’t know that January 19th is now Dolly Parton Day in the great state of Illinois. I’m sure Broadway in Chicago would suggest you celebrate the holiday by checking out the musical, based off the 1980 movie about female empowerment (and Dolly’s acting debut). For those who doubt the merit of a screen-to-stage to national tour musical, I hear you. But even though the show, with music and lyrics by Parton, can be wildly uneven, it’s still a lot of fun.

3 leads from 9 to 5 the Musical - Broadway Tour - Bank of America Theatre9 to 5 starts off brilliantly, but like most weekdays, it lags by the end. While writer Patricia Resnick tweaked the movie’s storyline (which was Jane Fonda’s pet project), the tale is mostly the same. To be blunt, this is not a musical that will be remembered. There are a lot of cracks and the story is jerky. In the short term, however, the show exudes laughs, razzle-dazzle, and, most importantly, heart. You leave the theatre satisfied, more or less. There is a reason shows like 9 to 5 are only in town for a fortnight.

The show’s plot follows three working women as they meet, hate their “autocratic, sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss, sort of accidentally kidnap their boss, and then take over (and successfully run) the company. Even though it came out just 32 years ago, at the time of the movie the idea of a female executive was implausible. Now, that’s not so much the case. There aren’t really any new ideas brought to the table by the stage adaptation, but it wraps up the old ones in new packages.

The first half is, dare I say it, sort of deep. It’s fascinating to watch the three women interact and build relationships. There is Violet (Dee Hoty), the head of the secretary pool who is waiting for a promotion. She is mildly irked by Doralee (Diana DeGarmo in Parton’s role), a blonde with a Texas accent and really big…hair. The last part of the trio is Judy (Mamie Parris), a recently divorced new hire who has never had a day job in her life. All of them chafe under their boss (Joseph Mahowald), who insults Judy, hires a young man over promoting Violet, and tries to bang Doralee every chance he gets.

What’s interesting is watching how the women treat and judge each other. One of the first things Violet teaches Judy is that she shouldn’t like Doralee. Thanks to stress, illicit substances, and a mutual hatred of the powers that be, they come together.

Then they kidnap their boss, everything gets ridiculous, and it all ends very quickly.

For her debut at penning a musical, Parton does a decent job. None of the songs are particularly memorable besides the titular tune that’s already a country/pop classic. The three leading ladies do a fabulous job with the material. Hoty possesses the best acting chops, exploring Violet’s vulnerabilities as well as her steely, case-of-the-Mondays demeanor. Parris does a hilariously neurotic turn in the Fonda role. The biggest surprise is DeGarmo. Maybe casting American Idol runner-ups draws crowds, but it usually just draws eye-rolls from me. Although untrained, the adorable DeGarmo pulled off the role with gusto and spirit. I would think that she made Parton proud.

Resnick pushes the show into campy territory far too much. At one point, each lady dreams up a plan for killing the boss, and each fantasy is given an overblown staging. Excesses like that tend to distract. The musical, in the end, seems more like a well-acted knock-off of the movie instead of a re-imagining. In that sense, it does its job.

  
  
Rating:  ★★½
  
  

 

Dolly Parton celebrates her 65th birthday on opening night

       
        

Continue reading

Northwestern University’s 78th annual Waa-Mu show opening this weekend

78th Annual Waa-Mu Show a Musical Page Turner

 

Waa-Mu 2009: One for the Books,” Northwestern University’s 78th edition of the Waa-Mu show, will feature original songs, dances and comedy sketches based on the timeless tales of princesses, the adventures of Curious George, the trials of Holden Caulfield, and the poetry of e.e. cummings and Walt Whitman.

Under the direction of School of Communication Theatre Professor Dominic Missimi, this year’s Waa-Mu show will feature special guest appearances by such beloved fictional characters as Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Prince Charming, Rapunzel, the elusive Waldo, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Tarzan and Jane and many others. Missimi has directed Waa-Mu for the past 16 years, not including the two additional years he co-directed the show with former theatre faculty member and longtime Waa-Mu director Tom Roland.

Continue reading