Review: Bury the Dead (Promethean Theatre Ensemble)

  
  

Promethean Ensemble misfires in play about war

  
  

Quinn White, Carl Lindberg, Jared Fernley, Joel Kim Booster, Brian Pastor, Dylan Stuckey - Promethean Ensemble's 'Bury the Dead'

  
Promethean Theatre Ensemble presents
  
Bury the Dead
  
Wirtten by Irwin Shaw
Directed by Beth Wolf
at The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark (map)
thru May 21  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

When Irwin Shaw penned Bury the Dead in 1936, World War I was still lodged like an artillery shell in the American psyche. An astounding nine million combatants lost their lives fighting in the trenches of Europe in what would be the last war largely fought on foot. At the time, no one could conceive that greater methods of mass destruction were on the horizon and that more death lie in waiting.

Brit Cooper Robinson and Joel Kim Booster. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography.Although the play is not specifically about any war (according to the script, it is about a fictitious war that has not yet been fought), it is about the massive human toll that war takes and the desire for a society to forget the dead in an effort to pacify the psychic pain. This phenomenon that certainly existed post-World War I remains today. But today’s wars are oranges compared to yesterday’s apple battles. As societies have bled over borders and become global communities and mass communication is a "Like" button away, the dynamics of war that Shaw highlights do not stand the test of time. Vastly enhanced mobility and weapons technology have drastically reduced the number of causalities. Although military deaths are still a topic for discussion, personal freedoms, religious zealotry, resource acquisition, financial costs and nation building are the predominant concerns of today.

This is unfortunate considering the Promethean Theatre Ensemble decided to take the script, virtually untouched, and plop it into the present world (or more accurately 2013). What results is one of the most hilariously ill-conceived updated period pieces I have ever seen. Just take the opening scene. Two soldiers, presumably in either Iraq or Afghanistan, are shoveling sand graves for their fallen comrades as their sergeant stands watch. They begin smart-talking to each other, commenting on the smell of the bodies and the exhaustion felt from physical labor. But instead of speaking in the contemporary vernacular, the two soldiers sport hilariously anachronistic Brooklyn accents and use such words as "gyped" and "stiff." This would be fine if we were observing a couple of wise guys hanging out at the Black and Tan in 1930, but it’s just blatantly bizarre for 21st-century soldiers.

Besides the dialogue, which is only made more cringe-worthy by the scenery-chewing cast, the artistry of the story is non-existent. David Mamet has written that any play that serves to grandstand is not a play worth producing. Shaw’s play is one giant anti-war polemic. There is no devil’s advocate, no counter view that is meant to challenge our own preconceived notions of war. It is just a long diatribe that preaches to the choir. And today’s choir is too intelligent for this kind of preachy pandering. Challenge us. Make us question our views. The last thing an audience wants to do is wallow in the sense that we were right all along. When a soldier ruminates that "Kids shouldn’t be dead," you can just feel the audience collectively shouting "Duh!"

     
Shawna Tucker and Quinn White in Promethean Theatre Ensemble's 'Bury the Dead' by Irwin Shaw. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography. "Bury the Dead" Cast in Promethean Theatre Ensemble's Irwin Shaw play. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography.

The play is about seven dead soldiers who choose to stand in defiance and refuse to be buried and forgotten. In the second act, the military—in a remarkably chauvinistic move—contacts the soldier’s wives, mothers and sisters to coax them into the grave. What follows is a series of two-person scenes with more wistful gazing and maudlin emoting than a Lifetime movie. If you’re a fan of repetitious dialogue (e.g., "Let me see your face. Just let me see your face!"), be prepared to get your fill.

With Bury the Dead, Promethean Theatre has produced the equivalent of taking “Gone with the Wind” and setting it in China. This confusing and poorly thought out concept is further harmed by uneven performances and heavy-handed direction. Yes, the script certainly has its flaws, but with some clever updates, it could still have made for an entertaining watch. But save for a Katy Perry reference, the script seems strangely naive, turning what should be a tense drama into a bizarre farce.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

Marco Minichiello and David Fink in Promethean Theatre Ensemble's 'Bury the Dead' by Irwin Shaw. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography.

Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s Bury the Dead, by Irwin Shaw, continues through May 21st at The Artistic Home, with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $20, and can be purchased by phone (800-838-3006) or online. For more information, visit prometheantheatre.org.

All photos by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography, © 2011.

     

Continue reading

REVIEW: The Crucible (Infamous Commonwealth Theatre)

Minimalist “Crucible” finds hope amid darkened righteousness.

 

Crucible1

 
Infamous Commonwealth Theatre presents:
 
The Crucible
 
by Arthur Miller
directed by
Chris Maher
at
Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map)
through April 25th (more info)

reviewed by Ian Epstein 

The intriguing thing about a good production of Arthur Miller‘s The Crucible – and Infamous Commonwealth‘s definitely falls in this category –  is how distant it feels from the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that was so infamously intertwined and on Miller’s mind as impetus for this composition.

The Crucible tells the tale of the Salem witch trials, an historical event that took place in Massachusetts back in the days of Puritan Theocracy (circa 1690).  Tituba (Adrian Snow), a slave from Barbados, and a bunch of goodly Puritan girls are caught dancing in the woods – at the time, some are even allegedly naked. And since Puritan foulplay of any sort is rewritten as Satanic rite, the whispers reverberating through Salem are about much more than a little naked dancing in the woods.

Abbigal Williams (Elaine Ivy Harris) and John Procter (Craig C. Thompson) -Infamous Commonwealth TheatreNumerous accusations begin to fly that girls have even been consorting with the Devil himself.  There are some murmurs that say Abigail Williams (Elaine Ivy Harris) did it.  Or was it the Reverend Parris’s daughter Betty (Glynis Gilio), as others say?  No, they insist, contradicting and indicting one another in a back and forth game of guilt and blame:  it was this girl and not that one, or it was Goodie Proctor (Jennifer Matthews) leading them all to the Devil! 

The accusations babble as sourceless and incoherent as a Massachusetts brook.  Townspersons accuse each other of increasingly sinful behavior, eventually metastasizing from the realm of the accused adolescent girls to grown women and eventually to the men as well.  Before long the small New England town appeals to an out-of-town minister to bring some order and some God to the whole mess – but it only gets muddier, further from the event and any sensible resolution.

As the play’s four Acts (though there’s only one intermission) unfold, the audience watches this small New England town shred itself, its children, its ministers, even the rule of law in hot pursuit of the Devil’s involvement, if any, in civic affairs.  The action moves from a villager’s home to the courtroom and then the prison at dawn on a day scheduled thick with hangings for witchcraft. Nick Rastenis‘ spare, white, post-and-beam, wood-colored set makes movement from one setting to another an effortless rearrangement of bodies on stage, and perhaps a table or a chair.  Rachel M. Sypniewski‘s costumes match the barren quality of Rastenis’ set, making it clear that Crucible-Prepress-Cropped-sThe Crucible is a kind of minimal costume drama; it’s a period piece where bare white walls and exposed wood beams do wonders. 

The minimal quality of the set and the dire consequences of being accused of witchcraft render Stephen Dunn‘s flamboyant gesticulations as Reverend Parris a little too sticky on stage – they tangle up the audience’s attention, making them question his character, and not listen to Reverend Parris’s doublespeak.  Perhaps this is the one instance where Director Chris Maher has pushed too hard – as otherwise the actors successfully achieve and maintain a nearly manic pace and pitch that keeps all four acts clipping along at a pace that makes the piece a borderline thriller – no small accomplishment for a piece where the characters are all too busy attempting to outdo each other’s rhetoric with brimstone polemics on the floor of a courtroom.

 
Rating: ★★★
 

Extra Credit

Continue reading

Review: “The Night Season

A richly-developed Irish love story

Vitalist - NIGHT - 2 

Vitalist Theatre and Premiere Theatre & Performance presents:

The Night Season
by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
directed by Elizabeth Carlin-Metz
Theatre Building Chicago 
thru October 17th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Vitalist - NIGHT - 4 The Night Season, written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is an Irish love story about the lonely Kennedy family. Each member of the family has their own insecurities caused by their mother’s abandonment 5 years earlier, and each of them is on their own path to find love. The outstanding performance by the cast and, exceptional use of the stage with creative touches to enhance the Celtic atmosphere, makes this show heartwarming – even in the midst of the dark struggles each family member endures.

Set in Sligo, Ireland, a town near the shore and once home to the famous poet W.B. Yeats, the stage is brightened by the starry night and hazy lighting that romanticizes the atmosphere. Set designer Craig Choma ’s extremely creative set, and the lighting (by lighting designer Richard Norwood) used to separate scenes, allows multiple plot lines to take place right in front of our eyes without any confusion as to which characters we should be paying attention. The direction of Elizabeth Carlin-Metz makes the transition between scenes fluid and actually heighten the emotional moments by assisting the understanding of the time lapses, or the fact that the two situations take place at the same time.

The play opens up with the audience able to watch the three sisters chatting on the rooftop, while grandmother is slouched down sleeping in her arm chair in the living room. As the closet door opens we get a unique viewpoint (as if we are looking down on him from the sky) of father as he restlessly fights his nightmares while sleeping drunk in his bedroom.

Each member of the family is weighted down with loneliness; longing to be loved by another. They are filled with an insecurity of being unloved, yet there is a bond and a closeness between each, and an unconditional love that exists within their own family (this includes the aging mother of the women that caused this family all of their sorrow.)

Vitalist - NIGHT - 3 The three sisters are single and unlucky in love. Rose (Kelly Lynn Hogan), who the grandmother refers to as a spinster, hastily jumps in bed with the visiting American actor John (Jared Fernley) who is staying with the Kennedys while playing the role of Yeats in a movie. In that moment John is looking for comfort after his mother’s recent death, but Rose wakes up in the morning to find an unwelcomed difference in the intimacy John offers her. The youngest daughter Maud (Eden Newmark) is stuck in a relationship with an unaffectionate communist sympathizer, and the eldest daughter Judith (Vanessa Greenway) is too afraid to open up and – since she has stepped in as the family’s mother – she’s too busy to recognize her feelings for the cerebral neighborhood man, Gary Malone (Paul Dunckel.)  Judith is mature beyond her age and has taken on a cold emotionless state that comes with the necessity of constantly having to take care of responsibilities outside of your own. Visiting her absent mother, and then letting loose with her Father on her first drinking binge, Judith goes on a journey to discover her capacity to love, and finds it in places that have always been there.

Every character is richly developed by author Rebecca Lenkiewicz, but the Grandmother Lily O’Hanlon and the girls’ Father Patrick Kennedy stand out with enduring performances by Marry O’Dowd and Don Bender. The Grandmother’s (Patrick’s Mother-in-law)  quirky and at times raunchy personality is light and fun and she also draws empathy from us as we watch her age with dementia and sadness. In her eccentric and loony state she continues to search for her last love and in a way she finds it in the gentleman arms of John.

The Night Season is a truly great Irish love story, filled with the complications of life and the strength of a loving family who supports each other in spite of their flaws. Lenkiewicz brings up themes of guilt, love and the passing of time and how life will bring us to face these states over-and-over again in our lives. The common occurrence and unavoidable ending to these moments should not devalue their importance nor limit you from experiencing another separate love story. Through all the pain and hardships, life goes on for the Kennedy family. The Night Season is an enchanting story playing and I highly recommend it.

Rating: ««««

Vitalist - NIGHT - 1

 

Continue reading