Review: The Man Who Came to Dinner (Circle Theatre)

     
     

Circle Theatre serves up a hilariously entertaining ‘Dinner’

     
     

Jon Steinhagen, Kieran Welsh-Phillips, Jerry Bloom - Circle Theatre

  
Circle Theatre presents
  
The Man Who Came to Dinner
   
Written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Directed by
Mary Redmon
at
Madison Street Theatre, Oak Park (map)
through April 3  |  tickets: $20-$24  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

When an infamously demanding radio personality slips on the ice of his dinner host’s front stoop and is forced to take up residence against his will in their home for six weeks, among their various relatives, famous friend visitors and townsfolk, only madness can ensue. Such is the story of The Man Who Came to Dinner, currently playing at Circle Theatre.

Jon Steinhagen, Noah Sullivan, Patti Paul - Circle TheatreThe Man Who Came to Dinner begins with an energetic cast (maybe a little bit too energetic). While the show is a farcical comedy and over-the-top acting is to be expected, some performers, such as Mrs. Stanley (Patti Paul), wife of Earnest Stanley who are hosting radio personality Sheridan Whiteside, teeter on excessive overacting, which can be grating at times. Whiteside (Jon Steinhagen) starts off understated, delivering dryly bitter lines and insults in a rather hilarious manner. As the show progresses, we see Steinhagen begin to talk faster and faster which – though serving as a method of condescension to others – at times become hard to understand and just a tad grating. However, when taken as a whole, Steinhagen does a great job of embodying the character and fleshing Whiteside out.

Lorraine Sheldon (Heather Townsend) is also plagued by use of quick speech, but as she is a larger than life character, a famous actress friend of Whiteside’s who he’s invited to visit, Townsend’s bombasity works here, as Townsend uses not only her voice but her facial expressions and body language to bring Lorraine Sheldon to life.

Whiteside has traveled with his secretary Maggie Cutler (Kieran Welsh-Phillips), who keeps his life in order while he’s indisposed. Welsh-Phillips offers depth to the character of Maggie. She’s a presence on stage, speaking clearly and delivering her lines with confidence and knowledge of her character’s story. Maggie also falls in love while they are stuck at the Stanley residence with Burt Jefferson (delightfully played by Danny Pancratz), a newspaper reporter who has come in search of a story on Whiteside.

Harriet Stanley (Brooke Sherrod Jaeky), an ax murderer masquerading as Mr. Stanley’s sister, Nurse Preen (Katie Kisner), Whiteside’s nurse and Beverly Carlton and Banjo (Jerry Bloom), friends of Whiteside’s who visit, round out the list of standout performances. Jaeky is understated, creating a strange yet fascinating character. Kisner is rather comical as she attempts to deal with Whiteside’s temper tantrums and antics. Bloom takes on characters based on famous character men: Jon Steinhagen, Heather Townsend - Circle TheatreBeverly on Noel Coward and Banjo on Harpo Marx. Bloom does a terrific job of paying homage to these characters as well as bringing his own take to the roles.

The set, designed by Bob Knuth, is quite ornately decorated. From the busily detailed wallpaper to the decorative window treatments to the proper-looking furniture and baby grand piano it’s clear that we’re in the home of wealthy individuals. A grand staircase leads to the home’s bedrooms and French doors lead to an (offstage) library. The attention to detail is exceptional and the set is visually interesting, a perfect backdrop for this performance.

The Man Who Came to Dinner proves to be an entertaining show and ends on a hilarious note that keeps the audience laughing as the actors take their bows.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Danny Pancratz, Kieran Welsh-Phillips, Jon Steinhagen - Circle Theatre

The Man Who Came to Dinner plays at Circle Theatre (1010 W. Madison, Oak Park) through April 3rd. Tickets are $20 to $24 and can be purchases by calling (708) 771-0700.

  
  

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REVIEW: Titus Andronicus (DreamLogic TheatreWorks)

 

Set in historic mansion, a gripping tale of war and revenge

 

 Titus Andronicus - DreamLogic TheatreWorks 3

    
DreamLogic TheatreWorks presents
   
Titus Andronicus
   
Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by
Scott McKinsey
at
The Hopkinson House, 10820 South Drew (map)
through November 6   |  more info 
Note: performance includes house tour, open bar, and catered dinner

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

It has been over thirty years since I set foot inside one of the Morgan Park/Beverly mansions. They always seemed so forbidding and aloof on the other side of Longwood Drive. I felt a deep sense of privilege and gratitude to see a stunning version of Titus Andronicus in the Hopkinson Mansion. DreamLogic Theatre Works has woven Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy with a historic house that was the last stop for the Underground Railroad in the northern states. The Hopkinson house is as much a character in the play as is the searing violence and venal scheming of the Shakespeare’s Goths and Romans.

Titus Andronicus - DreamLogic TheatreWorks 4 The play is set when Rome was in decline. The Goths were invading Rome, pillaging villages, and meting out horrible punishments. The general Titus returns after a ten-year battle with the Queen Tamora and her retinue as his spoils of war. He executes Tamora’s son Alarbus to appease the Roman gods and sets in motion a carnal revenge cycle.

DreamLogic chose to present this production promenade style in the attic of the Hopkinson house. It is a wise choice that gives an almost enchanted value to the drama. I was given a tour of the home and some history revealing that Mrs. Hopkinson was a member of Queen Victoria’s court who also hosted dramatic productions in the same attic. The producers and cast also have been privy to a sweet ghost by the name of Spencer. The young lad’s trunk is a prop in the production and Spencer played a few pranks on the wardrobe mistress I was told. In the promenade style, the audience is a part of the play. The cast members wend their way through the audience. They address us as ‘Romans’ and look us in the eye while sometimes touching us. The audience is more witness than mere voyeur being entertained for a few hours. I was entranced by some action on the stage only to be surprised at the character of Aaron crouching behind me, panting and waiting to attack.

The attic is dressed in burlap and what seems to be birch twigs set as antlers, transforming the space into the cave-like smudged camps of ancient wars. Dim lights represent camp fires and oil lamps of ancient Rome. The slaves and captives are thrown into a pit that was originally hiding place for escaped slaves in America. The cruelty of war and slavery is the same in every age and it sent a shudder down my spine every time that pit was mentioned.

The cast of this production is superb. Titus Andronicus has long been maligned as one of Shakespeare’s lesser works. The combination of the cast will definitely make you reconsider this assumption. The actors trod the attic completely inhabiting the roles as if they’re the ghosts themselves. Curtis Powell plays the role of Titus with a measured ferocity such that it is a shock when the character’s madness is revealed to be a ruse.

Megan Storti plays the malevolent and seductive Tamora. Ms. Storti gives a savage performance as a queen in captivity. The Moor, Aaron, is played by Mallory Backstrom. I have seen some brilliant performances with nontraditional casting and I add this to that roster. Ms. Backstrom projects the warrior, lover, and defiant sire with heat and lithesome grace.

Jack Sharkey is impressive as the cuckolded Saturnius. Mr. Sharkey’s character commands the stage as the emperor by nepotism. Alexis Meuche as the doomed Lavinia is also wonderful. Her character is the first to suffer one of the works’s many dismemberments and brutal assaults. Ms. Meuche plays the muted Lavinia with raw emotion and superb physicality. (I could not look away though I wanted to when Chiron and Demetrius attack her.)

Ray Ready as Chiron and Edwin Unger as Demetrius bring some dark humor to the tragedy as well as requisite savagery. Rounding out this stellar cast are Paul Fleschner, Nick Goodman, Sara Katherine Hammond, Brendan Siegfried, Jeffrey Clarke Stokes, Brady Greer Huffman, and Mickey Renan. They revolve in and out of various roles without missing a step. Scott McKinsey’s direction is excellent and well paced. That is no small feat considering that this is a three hour production with one ten minute intermission.

I highly recommend Titus Andronicus as produced by DreamLogic. This is a full theatre experience and an immersion in history of this regions and our country’s own shameful past as passed down from ancient history.

       
       
Rating: ★★★★
     
    

DreamLogic TheatreWorks banner

As a side note-the Hopkinson mansion has a history as a residence to students throughout the years. Cast member Mallory Backstrom is in residence and an excellent tour guide. It’s a very worthy Chicago style theatre adventure. Go see it!

The production runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays Through November 6th at the Hopkinson Mansion, 10820 S. Drew Street, in the historic Beverly neighborhood of Chicago. The house is open at 6:30pm with a complimentary open bar, catered dinner, and look around the home before the show at 8:00pm. The Metra is right around the corner from the mansion and if you are feeling adventurous you can get there by CTA Red Line, the Vincennes bus, and then a short walk. If you don’t know your way around I would suggest a taxi from the 95th stop. More information is available at dreamlogictheatreworks@gmail.com

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