Review: THIS TRAIN (16th Street Theater at Steppenwolf)

An expressive train ride full of colorful humanity

 

this-train

   
16th Street Theater presents
  
THIS TRAIN
   
Written and performed by Tony Fitzpatrick
Directed by
Ann Filmer
at Steppenwolf’s
Merle Reskin Garage Theatre (map)
through August 1st  |  tickets: $22  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Imagine riding the Red Line with Michael Moore, John Goodman and Mother Theresa to the Morse Stop to decipher the graffiti, enjoy the art and give money to the poor while a street musician serenaded. 16th Street Theater presents THIS TRAIN at Steppenwolf’s Merle Reskin Garage Theatre. It’s a multi-media experience written and performed by artist, poet, actor Tony Fitzpatrick. The show is a collection of this-train3 expression; projected images of art accompanied by sung verse intermingled with real life tales of vagabonds through history and on Damen Avenue. This decoupage of the plight of the hobo uses political rants and amusing side stories to get at the core illustration: ‘the greatest crime in this country is to be poor.’ With the current economic climate, THIS TRAIN is a timely ride connecting beyond people’s stations in life.

THIS TRAIN is Tony Fitzpatrick’s one hobo show. A musician trio and a Paul Shaffer-look-a-like sidekick are present but they are more props in ‘Tony’s World.’ Fitzpatrick shares personal stories of his journey as an artistic drifter. Channeling a new age hobo confidence, he likes to be paid first and in cash. Mimicking his Ukraine neighbor, Studs Terkel, or a plethora of homeless visitors to his studio, Fitzpatrick is a masterful storyteller creating visuals from his word choices. What keeps the show from being a vanity showcase is Fitzpatrick’s vulnerability, compassion and genuine fondness for the poor. He knows the impoverished by name. ‘I’m two paychecks away from being Tony and one drink away from being Wayne.’ Along with his stories, the audience gets glimpses of his art. Pictures of his art are projected with music accompaniment and Fitzpatrick’s recorded poetry. The art is folksy abstract with the fusion graphics of skeletons, words and the hobo alphabet. Fitzpatrick’s proclamations of ‘language comes from art’ and ‘art is a labor of desire’ are represented in this auto-biographical ‘wonder’ choice where he fully loves and participates.

 

ThisTrain_SallyandJohn  ThisTrainEnsemble
this-train5 this-train2

Under the direction of Ann Filmer, ‘voiceover Tony’ and ‘real life Tony’ segments transition without a hitch. The show has an unrehearsed, authentic, stopover in ‘Tony’s World’ feel. The style seems gritty and spontaneous to match the content. For the projection segments, Kristin Reeves has created a video that uses movement, people, paintings and the written word as a vehicle synced perfectly with a pre-recorded Fitzpatrick narration or Kat Eggleston’s soulful singing. The effect is breaking up the commute watching YouTube videos on an I-pod.

Public transportation is not for everyone. But for those who appreciate the colorful humanity that makes any transit ride more entertaining, Fitzpatrick drives THIS TRAIN up close and personal. Catch THIS TRAIN off the Red Line Clybourn stop or hop the Blue Line to Big Cat Press, 2124 N. Damen, for daily encore presentations.

   
    
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Running Time: 100 minutes included a fifteen minute intermission

3 WORDS: Getting on the Brown Line, James describes the show with “Next Stop: Chicago.”

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REVIEW: The Last of the Dragons (Lifeline Theatre)

A good time for ALL ages

 

TheLastoftheDragons4 LR

review by  K.D. Hopkins

As I entered the Lifeline Theatre on a freezing Chicago afternoon, I thought back to the first time I saw real children’s theatre. It was a production of Peter Pan in the early 70’s. I was a cynical kid and did not give in easily to fantastic imagination. Fast forward to 2010 – I watched while what seemed to be an endless stream of children were herded into the cozy theatre. They were a well-behaved bunch and I sensed more sophisticated than most children about theatre. That was a bonus as we settled in for an hour of fun with a really great lesson about individuality and tradition.

TheLastoftheDragons3 LR The Last of the Dragons is a world premiere musical adaptation from a novel by Edith Nesbit. It is of interest to note that Ms. Nesbit was a woman considered ahead of her time in Victorian England. Not only was she an accomplished author but also a political activist involved in creating the precursor to England’s Labour Party – the Fabian Society. The central character of Princess Andromeda (nicknamed Andy) is a girl possessing a strong mind who has decidedly unfeminine pursuits according to her father, the king. She is an accomplished swordswoman, wears her hair short, and likes to dress in trousers. Like Victorian England, women’s roles were defined clearly and if one expected a comfortable life, she would willingly adapt to societal mores.

Princess Andy is played by Anne Sears. She is fresh faced and appealing as the gutsy princess. Her comic gifts show brilliantly in the scene where she is being coached in princess behavior and attire. Mike Ooi plays the King with just enough bombast and humor. Ooi possesses a fine bass voice that resounds in the song “Tradition”. This production does not talk down to the audience just because it is meant for children. There is a layered dynamic between the characters of the King and Princess Andy. They engage in swordplay in the opening scene that hints at the King’s indulgence and acceptance of his daughter’s skills and individuality.

Cast member David Fink is a triple threat as the hilarious D’Artagnan, Chamberlain, and as the Dragon. Mr. Fink has been in previous Lifeline Theatre adaptations (including my all time favorite childhood book “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile”), and here his role of Dragon breaks your heart as the Dragon who is a pacifist and longs to have friends rather than being feared. It’s a fine and subtle lesson about fear and prejudice as traditions that need to be broken in every generation. His characterization of the parrot D’Artagnan had everyone in the audience chuckling. He is physically nimble and obviously knows how to project emotion in spite of a giant papier-mache head.

Kudos is due to Scott Allen Luke as Prince Stanley. He is the perfect counterpoint to Princess Andy’s physicality. His character is studious and henpecked by his mother the Queen played with flair by Mallory Nees. Prince Stanley is told, “You must be more like a prince and less like you”. It is another good lesson in appearances and tradition no matter the time. Glass slippers, white horses, and dwarves can easily be seen as the cool shoes, toys, and school cliques in our time.

The staging of The Last of the Dragons is genius in its simplicity. The young audience can focus on the characters rather than lots of set dressing. The swordplay is not too violent and there are smart double entendres for everyone to enjoy. Director Dorothy Milne has managed to project the just right mix of whimsy and morality lessons with this production. Lifeline’s tagline is ‘big stories up close’ and they continue to be true to their word. The staging of the Dragon’s lair is funny and just scary enough. The Dragon is a beautiful mix of brocade and voile managing to cleverly encompass the breadth of the stage.

The music and lyrics are by Mikhail Fiksel, Kyle Hamman, and Alex Balestrieri. It is easy and fun to sing. In fact, I found myself humming the finale “Fly With A Dragon” as I walked home. David Bareford adapts this play from the story written by Ms. Nesbit, who collaborated with Kenneth Grahame of “Wind in the Willows” fame on her ‘Dragon’ stories toward the end of her colorful and turbulent life. The story is a fun fantasy that the kids will probably act out at home like any good childrens theatre or book. After I left, I recalled another theatre experience from the later 70’s called Warp by Stuart Gordon at the Organic Theater. This fine production of The Last of the Dragons is great preparation for more theatre in a child’s future whether they are three or ready for AARP.

If you have not yet been to a Lifeline Theatre production, this is an excellent one to attend – and see for yourself why this theatre company has been a long-time anchor in the Glenwood Arts District and a precious resource in the neighborhood as a whole.

 

Rating: ★★★

The Last of the Dragons runs through February 21st 2010. Shows are Saturdays at 1:00PM and Sundays at 11:00AM and 1:00PM. The Lifeline Theatre is located at 6912 Glenwood Avenue in Rogers Park. Call 773-761-4477 or visit www.lifelinetheatre.com for more information on Lifeline’s productions and other fun programs for children and adults alike. See you in the aisles!

 

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