Review: The Buzz that Is the Buzz (Curious Branch Theatre)

     
     

Mighty mind blowing

     
     

The Buzz That Is the Buzz - Curious Branch Theatre

   
Curious Theatre Branch presents
  
The Buzz That Is the Buzz
   
Written and Directed by Beau O’Reilly
at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston (map)
through April 10  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Heaven only knows what to make of The Buzz That Is the Buzz–or why it all hangs together as well as it does. Is it the fun of riffing on bad guys, whether they’re the most treacherous of villains, like Shakespeare’s’ Richard the Third or the old-style street thugs with a lingo all their own? Is it the play’s oddball mix of slackers/hipsters with down-and-out private eyes and excessively specialized gay shopkeepers? Curious Theatre Branch has brought a lot of curious avant garde things to light but Beau O’Reilly’s world premiere play gives audiences a hallucinogenic trip where every odd move and play on words fits just right and gels into a funky seamless whole. Then again—maybe it’s those damn chickens, freaky harbingers of guilt and doom and just plain freakiness. Idiot chickens!

Based on a play that was never written, a collaboration between O’Reilly and William Shakespeare called “The Doom In the Bud,” The Buzz That Is the Buzz pursues the aftermath of the evil deeds of Lord Agit (Jayita Bhattacharya), which are twice performed by the cast in shadow pantomime form. O’Reilly’s utilizes movement and shadow theater not only to underscore the work’s random, dreamlike theatricality but also to distance the audience from the characters they are seeing. Lord Agit quotes lines from Richard the Third with self-conscious, almost cartoon-style villainy. But Bhattacharya’s portrayal cannot be received any more heavily than Matt Rieger’s interpretation of Con, a gangster and hit man with a sense of beat poetry about everything he observes. Con’s accompanied by his muscle, Randy (played with tight-jawed hilarity by Beau O’Reilly), who’s obsessive pre-occupation with safety forms its own safety hazard.

Both old school Chicago gangsters are followed by Benny Benjamin (Brian Collins), a cop turned private detective, who’s face was burned in a fire set by Con after he’d dispatched two lives on Lord Agit’s commission. Benny follows the thugs through their various wanderings, as they make contact with people far outside their world–therapists, gay shopkeepers and hip youngsters taking their first crack at selling a drug called “the mighty mind blow.” It turns out that Lord Agit has her origins in the mighty mind blow and that the whole of the world of the play just might have its origins there, too.

More than anything else, the work is a kaleidoscopic interplay of words and movement and images—and somehow, in some mysterious part of the medulla oblongata, it all comes together brilliantly. Evil and its consequences and regret meet with curiosity, dialogue and a bit of healing power to connect. Most of O’Reilly’s characters are haunted; those damn chickens especially haunt Lord Agit, but the mad whirlwind of friends and strangers strangely juxtaposed with each other goes on. I suppose just the fact that they’re talking to each other at all is a celebration of a more hopeful world than the one we’ve usually got.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Artists

Cast

Kelly Anchors, Jayita Bhattacharya, Brian Collins, Courtney Kearney, Stephen Lehman, Beau O’Reilly, Matt Rieger & Jordan Stacey

Production

Beau O’Reilly (director); Joseph Riley (set design); Diane Hamm (costumes & masks).

  
  

Review: Pinter’s “The Caretaker” (Curious Theatre Branch)

Hauntingly primal, animalistic performances are fascinating to watch

Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker"Moving season was the right time for Curious Theatre Branch to produce The Caretaker, by Harold Pinter. Tucked away in the intimate Side Project space, the set, recreating a dilapidated London apartment, is a chaos of broken down debris. A stuffed fox, old newspapers, a paint-splattered ladder, and at least four vacuum cleaners litter the space, designed by Shawn Reddy. Being a Rogers Park native, I was actually looking around to see if I recognized anything as something I threw out. The trashy setting provides a suitable backdrop to the perplexing play, itself a cacophony of dented personalities.

caretaker3 The Caretaker, first produced in 1960, was the first successful play of the writer who later would be hailed as Britain’s greatest living playwright until his recent death in 2008. In true absurdist tradition, not much actually happens in the play. Over the three acts (spanning 2.5 hours in this production), an arm is twisted, a bag is passed around, and the three characters enter and exit the apartment; other than that, the running time is filled with dialogue and Pinter’s famous pauses.

Without the cast having a keen understanding of Pinter’s language and characters, this could have been excruciatingly boring. Depicting one of the worst roommate situations imaginable, where a vagrant is taken in by two emotionally disturbed brothers, the play can flip from cynically hilarious to chilling over the course of a pause. Curious Theatre Branch, though, has a love-affair with the absurd, usually producing original works with the occasional Beckett thrown in for good measure. Directed by the cast along with Jayita Bhattacharya, who also stage manages, the staging of this somewhat baffling masterpiece is darkly visceral yet smartly communicative.

The most relatable character in the play is Davies, a petty, old transient who is both beggar and chooser. Like him, we suddenly find ourselves in the rundown flat that is inhabited by one brother, Aston, yet owned by another, Mick. Alongside Davies, we are slowly submerged into each of their bizarre and intimidating worlds.

Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker" This Caretaker values character above all else, and the performances electrify the space; the actors precisely envelope the damaged personalities they portray. Beau O’Reilly’s Davies is conniving and manipulative, decayed by xenophobia and a refusal to examine himself. O’Reilly captures Davies’ intense neediness as well as his fussiness. Jeffrey Bivens is menacing as Mick, speaking and moving in short bursts like a machine gun. The crowning performance, though, is (Beau’s son) Colm O’Reilly’s Aston. Quiet and unassuming, Aston speaks in nonsequitors, tossing out random facts about himself that lead to more questions than answers. The young O’Reilly captures the stoic energy of the character, speaking with much less volume than his father’s impassioned Davies. His gentle voice works perfectly in the tiny space. The best moment in the production is Aston’s marathon monologue describing his experience in a mental ward—O’Reilly barely moves an inch yet the audience is wholly entranced the entire time.

caretaker4 The end result is hauntingly primal. Some moments are stretched a little long, and a bit shorter run time would improve the show. The ending leaves the play wide open for a myriad of interpretations, which can be a more overwhelming than thought-provoking. This Caretaker is also void of British accents, which makes some of the colloquialisms a little out-of-place, but never distracts too much.

The animalistic performances, however, are fascinating to watch. All three actors have a deep respect and love for Pinter’s notoriously sharp language. In this production, they reveal Pinter’s true genius, his ability to stuff the absurd into the realistic.

Rating: «««

The Caretaker
May 22 – June 28
Fridays + Saturdays 8pm • Sundays 7pm
INDUSTRY NIGHT Monday, June 22 7pm

 

 

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