REVIEW: The Samaritan Syndrome (Brikenbrak Theatre)

Are you a victim, a savior or both?

 

claire-anthony

 
Brikenbrak Theatre presents
 
The Samaritan Syndrome
 
by Jeremy Menekseoglu
directed by Paul Cosca
at
Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee (map)
through May 25th  tickets: $12  |  more info

reviewed by Robin Sneed

Set in the chilling world of mental asylum turned brothel for customers with a penchant to save the women residing there, The Samaritan Syndrome takes us on a journey through the post feminist landscape of relationships between women with a  pathological need to be rescued and men who are desperate to be saviors.

Jeremy Menekseoglu’s tightly written play in one act, hits hard in its description of a cycle between women who have become so victimized their knights become victims in their attempt at salvage.. Heroic efforts are transformed into pathetic trudges towards the last remnants of traditional societal roles. The exchange of manipulation Rosenberg finds in both savior and saved, the script of this trapped dynamic, whose only outlet becomes violence, is dead on. This is an entropic world in which there is a flatness that barely covers killing rage.

Directed with an even and deeply caring hand by Paul Cosca, this is an ensemble piece deftly samaritansyndromeperformed by Anthony Stamilio, April Taylor, Brooke Elbrecht, Claire Kander, Nathan Randall, Sarah Grant, and Whitney LaMora.

Anthony Stamilio as Mr. Suit, carries the lead with force, playing a man searching for a woman he has lost, trying to redeem her, failing, and ultimately giving over to an outcome that is as shocking as it is inevitable.

Saint, portrayed by Brooke Elbrecht is the woman Mr Suit has been looking for. She sits waiting for her lost love in an almost Chekhovian longing that mirrors Mr. Suit’s long search for her. Elbrecht plays this role guilelessly as the woman with a bent for positive psychology. Her stark refusal to believe Mr. Suit’s summation of the man she loves as con man, becomes an inciting force, turning Saint into a woman who unravels Mr. Suit with his own expectations of their future relationship. With this, their fates are decided.

April Taylor gives a mature and steady performance as the Night Nurse of this asylum for those still trying to find meaning in a raging fantasy of knights and damsels. She subtlety creates a character arc in the personality split between her professional self and her own heroism toward women she cannot help. Her portrayal of a woman trapped in a role from which she is trying to break free is touched with nuance and depth. She is savior and victim, emerging only once in an attempt to save the despairing Mr. Suit from himself

Nathan Randall as Charming, gives a riveting performance as a man so deeply rooted within his cycle of abuse and salvation as to become evangelistic of the dynamic he is in. He is savior to the lost Grace, played energetically by Sarah Grant. She becomes the blithe purveyor of need as commodity. Grant delivers this complicated scenario with accuracy and humor, conveying complicity in the manipulation. She digs deeply to find the emotional cycle of abuse and release with her partner in this twisted space. The scenes between Grace and Charming reflect the core of this piece. The moments in which Charming confronts Mr. Suit, demanding he cry and show enough emotion to satisfy the requirement for savior, is a brilliant development, demonstrating the way in which the culture around these relationships is built.

Original music by David Rosenberg becomes part of the ensemble, bringing aural awareness to the dark quality of this theatre experience. This is the first piece from Paul Cosca’s Brikenbrak Theatre Project, and with this production of The Samaritan Syndrome, they have put themselves on the map as ones to watch.

 
 
Rating: ★★
 
 

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REVIEW: Agamemnon (Dream Theatre)


“Agamemnon” is a harbinger of good things to come
 
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Dream Theatre presents:
 
Agamemnon
 
Written/Directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu
at
Dream Theatre, 556 W. 18th Street (map)
through April 11th (more info | tickets)
 
reviewed by Ian Epstein 

Though it might fool you, Dream Theatre’s Agamemnon is not nearly as dusty as, judging by its title, it seems.  Artistic Director Jeremy Menekseoglu dons his actor/writer hat in this show as both the playwright and the male lead in the role of the homeward bound Greek title character: Agamemnon.  Menekseoglu’s is a retelling of Agamemnon’s homecoming.  It is told from a decidedly claustrophobic point of view that recasts Aeschlyus’ tragedy as a nautical No Exit played out between Agamemnon and a feisty, fluid-moving Cassandra (Courtney Arnett) who Agamemnon has found agamemnon3molested by one of his own Greek soldiers in the temple of Athena.  He offs the soldier and sets out to seduce Cassandra in the confines and comfort of his General’s berth on board his Greece-bound ship.   

Cassandra is the prophet no one believes or she’s a notable slave or she’s spill-over Trojan war spoils – this is the Cassandra to whom Apollo gave prophecy and the unfortunate condition that no one will believe what she foretells, so she stumbles forward into a future she can plainly predict, only able to retell her sad and tattered past.  Her predicament is made worse by the fact that the sea drowns out her gift and leaves her reeling like just another drunk sailor at sea. In one of the plays intense, narrative monologues (there are several), Cassandra paints the traumatic picture of her six year old self, whisked off by an Apollo with questionable motives.

The play is an examination of Stockholm syndrome – where a captive falls in love with or takes the side of the captor – as much as it’s an exercise in mining one of Aeschylus’ classical dramatic texts for something relevant to audience’s today. And Dream Theatre is big on starting this experience the moment you step through the door.  Members from the Chorus of Cassandra (Anna Weiler, Alicia Reese, and Molly Gray) greet all theatre-goers speaking a heightened language and looking like they’re on loan from the underworld.  They solicit the audience member with mandatory chocolate candies then ask which show they’ve come to see before insisting that they’ve come to see Cassandra and not that other one. 

Giau Truong and Anna Weiler collaborated on the set, and the effort shows in intricate, room-filling attention to decaying, wooden detail that evokes a nautical, underwater feel. Jeremy Menekseoglu also has his imprimatur on the sound design, which illustrates what the inside of a prophet’s mind sounds like with nail-biting, wince-inducing clarity.  At other times, the sound design mimics fuzzy agamemnon6 radio, with American dance music filtering through the air-waves and into Agamemnon’s regal berth.  Agememnon tries to impress his captive audience by dancing a sloppy, drunken Black Bottom.  Unimpressed, Cassandra whips out a performance-perfect Charleston that knocks Agamemnon on his ass.  "Where’d you learn to dance like that?" he asks – "Delphi" she replies.

On the whole, Agamemnon is an odd and oddly fresh performance that hits intriguing notes. Menekseoglu and Arnett both deliver performances admirable in their intensity. It’s intimate and foreign; funny one moment and then frightening the next. It uses melodrama as a technique and not by accident.   But the blend of heightened language with profanity and everyday speech still gets in the way.  The attempts at many of the poetic moments feel overdone, prosaic, and closer to the 2,500 year old source-text than most moments in the rest of the show.  A trait that may make the show a fuller experience for dramaphiles already familiar with the myth that Menekseoglu is molding.

As a first installment, Agamemnon is a harbinger of good things to come.  It will certainly be exciting to watch as Menekseoglu steers the Dream ensemble through the next two plays of his Agon Trilogy. (see performance dates fore next 2 parts of trilogy after the fold.)

 
Rating: ★★★
 

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