Review: Unbroken (Kid Brooklyn Productions)

  
  

‘Unbroken’ unleashes new company, fresh, young talent

  
  

A scene from "Unbroken" by Alexandra Wood and directed by Evan F. Caccioppoli; presented by Kid Brooklyn Productions

  
Kid Brooklyn Productions presents
  
Unbroken
  
Written by Alexandra Wood
Directed by Evan F. Caccioppoli
at side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through April 2  |  tickets: $10  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

It was with great sadness that we caught Kid Brooklyn Production’s inaugural show the very last weekend of its extremely short run. Unbroken, a contemporary play by Alexandra Wood inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, enjoyed a short but exceptional American premiere at side project theatre. We can only hope the producers will seriously consider remounting again for a longer run. Director Evan Caccioppoli displays deft handling of very mature themes with a cast of fresh and promising young actors.

A scene from "Unbroken" by Alexandra Wood and directed by Evan F. Caccioppoli; presented by Kid Brooklyn ProductionsBrian Barber (Johnno), Kate Black (Laura), Sara Jo Buffington (Amy), Julia Daubert (Zoe), Jason Nykiel (Steve) and David Henry Wrigley (David) play a round robin of characters searching for someone to meet their emotional and sexual needs. Their one-on-one sexual encounters with each other reveal secrets, longings and disappointments they keep from other partners. Vulnerability lies side-by-side with game-playing, the expressed needs and desires of each character are always up for second-guessing and Caccioppoli has finely honed his cast to build suspense from what goes unsaid as much as what is.

Every scene, every pairing is finely crafted and brimming with daring, fresh energy. If a few moments go a little rough around the edges from the young cast, those are quickly overridden by vital connections between desperate lovers. Amy finds herself alone with Johnno, who acts very much the cool and brazen rock star with her. But he shrinks to brokenhearted neediness with Laura, his adolescent sweetheart who has moved on to Steve to build a family. Laura discovers from her husband Steve that he is infertile, which cements her anxiety over creating a family, implicitly hinting at regret over not choosing Johnno after all. Steve plays along with the business sharp Zoe on their faux speed date, but she ambitiously lays snares for her boss, David, who seems more distracted by the fact that a male friend is getting married. The show subtly builds to the biggest showdown between Amy and David. Amy has detected all along David’s feelings for Joe and craves more than anything else an honest exchange between her and her husband. “Just confide in me like someone you could trust,” she demands over David’s perpetual need for denial and the catharsis released from that demand is palpably felt.

Kid Brooklyn Productions is off to a surprisingly good start. With a little more time to view their work, they could very well be judged as a theatre production company to watch out for.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

A scene from "Unbroken" by Alexandra Wood and directed by Evan F. Caccioppoli; presented by Kid Brooklyn Productions

Artists

Cast

Brian Barber, Kate Black, Sara Jo Buffington, Julia Daubert, Jason Nykiel, David Henry Wrigley

Production and Creative

Alexandra Wood (playwright); Evan F. Caccioppoli (director); Dina Marie Klahn (stage manager); Andrew Zamirowski (set/light designer); Katherine Meister (costume designer); Rachel Rizzuto (dialect coach); Brooke Johnson (asst. stage manager).

  
  

REVIEW: Ghosts (New Rock Theater)

     
     

Young ensemble struggles with Ibsen complexities

     
     

A scene from New Rock Theate's production of 'Ghosts' by Henrik Ibsen

  
New Rock Theater presents
  
Ghosts
   
Written by Henrik Ibsen
Directed by Derek Bertelsen
at New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston (map)
through Feb 27  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts is a terribly difficult play. It is talkie, chocked full of nuanced emotional twists and laden with the secret shames. Indeed, its characters’ morbid preoccupations with reputation may seem absurd to a modern audience. Take Pastor Manders’ (Robert McConnell) recommendation to Mrs. Alving (Brittany Ellis) that she not insure the orphanage she is setting up in her deceased husband’s honor. Insuring the rest of her mundane property is not a concern but, as the orphanage has been established for a higher purpose, it ought to rely solely upon the protection of God alone. Insuring the orphanage would signal a lack of faith, something the pastor cannot be seen in association with. Deeply concerned for his reputation, since he takes care of the business end of the orphanage, Manders presses Mrs. Alving to forego insurance. Ridiculous, but there it is. Mrs. Alving gives way, with disastrous results.

A scene from New Rock Theate's production of 'Ghosts' by Henrik IbsenGhosts is an immensely difficult play to translate to a modern audience, even with mature and experienced actors. Director Derek Bertelsen’s cast is simply too young and green at the start of their careers to give us fully fleshed out  19th-century characters or depict the psychological influences that inform their relationships. Instead, the actors flounder in the sea of Ibsen’s language, often overplaying their roles, then missing important nuances. It matters, because when all is said and done, what shocked Ibsen’s audience in his day doesn’t shock us today. After the shock is gone all that’s left are the relationships—like the relationship between a woman and the man she might have loved or the relationship between that woman and her son, who she estranged herself from for his sake.

McConnell plays a man stiff in his religious views but the stiffness of his body language and delivery comes across as caricature, not as a human being struggling with the disparity between his moralistic worldview and the reality right before his face. Ellis has some beautifully tender moments revealing the hypocrisy of her marriage to Manders and in her motherly role with her son, Oswald (Jason Nykiel), but that seems to be the extent of her range. Elsa Richardson plays Regina Engstrand with far too obvious flirtatiousness for a servant girl of the period. As her father, Jacob Engstrand, Patrick Doolin seems totally out of his depth, with no sense whatsoever of how to play a conniving, ruthless, old, working-class lecher.

The only thing that can be recommended is more acting experience, more research into the period and more lived experience for all involved with the production. As suits the production, Steven Hill’s set and lighting design is quite flat, sparse and unimaginative. New Rock Theater has bitten off more than it can chew with this production. Hopefully this can be a lesson learned about choosing your material wisely.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

A scene from New Rock Theate's production of 'Ghosts' by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts continues Wednesday, January 26th through Sunday, February 27th. Thursday through Saturday shows 7:00 pm, Sunday matinee 2:00 pm. NO PERFORMANCE ON FEBRUARY 12th Tickets: $20 Regular Admission / $15 for Students or Seniors / Group Rates available. Cash or check only at the door. More info at New Rock Theater’s website.

  
  

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Review: Point of Contention’s “The Wonder: A Woman Keeps a Secret”

Hilarity Truly Ensues in Point of Contention’s

“The Wonder: a Woman Keeps a Secret”

Point_of_Contention_The-Wonder

Point of Contention Theatre presents:

The Wonder: A Woman Keeps A Secret

by Susanna Centlivre
Directed by Margo Gray
Running thru August 26th (buy tickets)
Location: BoHo Theatre at Heartland Studio (map)

Review by Paige Listerud

This is what Chicago’s theater scene is all about: around a corner, in a little space one could easily pass by, a small theater company is doing great things. Director Margo Gray has assembled a lively and gifted cast for Point of Contention’s production of The Wonder: a Woman Keeps a Secret. This 18th century play by Susanna Centlivre, considered second only to Aphra Behn in her time, receives light and fast modern flare, while staying true to its ribald, audacious, and feminist origins. Step into that little black box–an evening of 295 year-old fun awaits you.

Set in colonial Brazil, the clever and virtuous Violante (Megan Faye Schutt) hides the daring Isabella (Lisa Siciliano) who has escaped from her father, Don Lopez (Jeff McLane), to keep from being married against her will for money and station. Trouble is, Violante is also in love with Isabella’s brother, Don Felix (Jason Nykiel). Every attempt to keep Isabella’s secret and help her on to true love puts Violante’s relationship with Don Felix in jeopardy. Her intrigues on Isabella’s behalf spark Don Felix’s suspicions, manly pride, and jealousy, and could ruin her own chances at happiness.

Of course, even given all the intrigues and mishaps between principle players, the bawdiest comedy comes from the servants; each player cast in these roles invests them with vigor, relish, and imagination. Ready for a three-way? Don Felix’s servant Lissardo (Justin Warren) certainly is–and attempts to negotiate between his dalliances with Isabella’s maid, Inis (Morgan Manasa) and Voilante’s maid, Flora (Hayley L. Rice). Warren skillfully wrings laughs out of every situation. Of course, he’s lucky; he has lines like, “Methinks I have a hankering kindness after the slut.” Drunken carousing with the Scotsman Gibby (Eric S. Prahl), servant to smooth Colonel Britton (Sean Patrick Ward), is a surefire way to pass the time while the girls’ tempers cool down.

Jeff McLane’s anxiety-ridden and compulsive Don Lopez is nothing short of hilarious. Point of Contention may want to put a ball and chain on him to keep him from getting away. Morgan Manasa does quadruple duty bringing bright, distinctive comic turns to each role she plays. Rice’s Flora is the perfect hearty, buxom foil to Schutt’s vivacious, intelligent Violante. The feminist moments of the play are enjoyable because the expressions of loyalty and boldness between women occur naturally within the context of the women’s choices.

As for the guys, where did POC find these smart, good-looking men—I mean, actors? Seriously, it’s impressive to see a work like this taken on and cast so evenly. Brett Lee’s Frederick is such a solidly good guy that one’s heart breaks in the end when he’s the only character who isn’t hooked up with anyone. Is it too late for a rewrite?

One soft spot remains, which could be worked out in the course of the run. In the second act, a relatively long scene between the two principle lovers, Don Lopez and Violante, shifts from romantic quarrel to reconciliation to comedic free-for-all over Felix’s reawakened suspicions. Schutt and Nykiel have not quite mastered the transitions between romantic moment and farce, which would be an essential skill for any 18th-century leading comic actor.

Special nods go to set design (Amanda Bobbitt and Allyson Baisden), lighting design (Brandon Boler), and costumes (Carrie Harden). This company follows the principle of doing a lot with a little. The ability to suggest colonial Brazil with precise touches and avoid drowning the cast in stuffy frippery must be commended.

Rating: «««½