REVIEW: Travels With My Aunt (Writers’ Theatre)

     
     

‘Travels’ a fun journey if a dated theme

     
     

Jeremy Sher, Sean Fortunato, LaShawn Banks and John Hoogenakker in TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT, now playing at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe.

  
Writers’ Theatre presents
   
Travels With My Aunt
  
Adapted by Giles Havergal
From
novel by Graham Greene
Directed by
Stuart Carden
Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon, Glencoe (map)
Through March 27  | 
tickets: $45–60 |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Written at the height of the "turn on, tune in, drop out" era, Graham Greene’s 1969 novel, "Travels with My Aunt",now being staged in a whimsical, well-theatrical adaption by Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe, has not aged well. And not only does its theme — a decorously straight-laced man discovering the enlightening aspects of kicking off the traces of comfortably respectable morality — come across as dated in these straitened times, when comfort, respectability and morality seem both highly desirable and all too rare. but the notoriously philandering Greene’s depiction of women is unflattering, chauvinistic and antediluvian in the extreme.

Sean Fortunato and John Hoogenakke in TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT, now playing at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe.There are four female characters of any significance in Greene’s novel, and all but one of them is relentlessly pursuing a man. First and foremost, we have Aunt Augusta — who for all her vigorous unconventionality, can’t travel without a man beside her — bent on reuniting with Mr. Visconti, the war criminal who has already once relieved her of a fortune. Then, there’s the hippie girl Tooley, bound for Kathmandu in the wake of a boyfriend who walked out on her in anger because she got pregnant. And Miss Patterson, so taken with her brief encounter with a married man that she’s spent her lifetime drooping beside his grave. Only Miss Keene, a kind of wistfully idealistic figure in the novel, holds back from degrading herself for the sake of a man, and that seems mainly because she’s too timid to do otherwise.

In his clever, 1989 theatrical adaptation, Giles Havergal tries to solve this flaw by doing away with women altogether: The female characters are still there, but they’re all played by men. Four male actors, identically clad in three-piece, gray, pin-striped suits and derby hats, portray some 25 characters, male and female, minor and major, as well as alternating as the retired-banker antihero, Henry Pulling. Pulling, a mild-mannered stay-at-home, encounters his elderly and surprising Aunt Augusta for the first time in more than 50 years at his mother’s funeral, and winds up led by her on a series of unlikely adventures across England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, Argentina and Paraguay, bending his mind and his morals.

While sticking rather closely to the novel, Havergal nevertheless freshens the story by decentralizing Pulling’s emotional journey and the then-shocking-now-bland aspects of Greene’s mildly salacious novel and putting an emphasis on the ridiculous. He doesn’t quite fix the problems, but watching Travels with My Aunt becomes much more entertaining than reading the book. At Writers’ Theatre, Director Stuart Carden and his fine cast give us an intimate journey with sharp staging and wonderfully nuanced comic acting.

While each of the four players — LaShawn Banks, Sean Fortunato, John Hoogenakker and Jeremy Sher — portray Henry at various times, sometimes rapidly switching off from one to another, each also portrays multiple other characters, and specializes in one of the major roles.

John Hoogenakke and Sean Fortunato iin TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT, now playing at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe.Banks gives us Wordsworth, Augusta’s often buffoonish African valet and lover, whom she cruelly dismisses for Visconti. His performance in that role sometimes seems tentative, as if he’s uncomfortable in it. He’s terrific, though, as a Cockney cabbie, a fortunetelling friend of Augusta’s and in other roles.

Fortunato stumbled over a few lines on opening night, but that scarcely impaired his wonderfully evocative performance as Augusta, a switchover he accomplishes seemingly effortlessly, just by body posture, even before he opens his mouth. Hoogenakker’s comic switches run more deadpan as he portrays Tooley with a flat Midwestern accent and her father, the CIA man, with a sort of Texan twang that contrast ideally with the British tones of the other characters.

Perhaps funniest of all, the stone-faced Sher’s mostly voiceless primary role is one of onstage sound-effects man, using everything from wine glasses to an umbrella to enhance the on-stage action. (Kudos also to sound designer Mikhail Fiksel.)

The foursome travels together brilliantly, making this a trip worth going on, even if you don’t care for the journey’s final destination.

  
  
Rating:  ★★★
  
  

John Hoogenakke, LaShawn Banks and Sean Fortunato in TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT, now playing at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe.

 

  
  

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REVIEW: I Am a Camera (The Neo-Futurists)

How do you see yourself? How do others see you?

 Caitlin Stainken - "I AM A CAMERA"

The Neo-Futurists present:

I AM A CAMERA

 

created/directed by Greg Allen
through March 13th (more info)

review by Ian Epstein 

I AM A CAMERA appropriately begins with a slideshow.  The audience waits while a projector cycles through images taken from an anonymous childhood.  A slideshow in total darkness draws from the same atmospheric quality of being at a movie theater except that still images force the audience’s attention to examine each frame thoroughly.  Within seconds, the audience begins to wonder if the children in these photographs and the person in that one are the same.  Who are they?  What should I be looking for? 

Caitlin Stainken - "I AM A CAMERA" The anonymity hardly matters as soon as the second image appears, since holding one photograph up to another inevitably invites comparison.  The audience searches in the dark for clues that will shed some light on the relationship between what was there a moment ago and what is there now.  The succession of faces and places begins to hint at a story.

Then the projector stops and the lights come up a bit and Neo-Futurist ensemble member Jeremy Sher – playing Neo-Futurist ensemble member Jeremy Sher — enters from behind a broad white curtain.  A voice commands him to smile from some offstage, unseen, photographic location (the booth).  As he does a song begins to play and it plays and plays and plays and then as it ends there’s the familiar electric blue of a camera flash and the smile fades as Jeremy melts into the darkness and disappears offstage.  Enter Neo-Futurist ensemble member Caitlin Stainken (playing Neo-Futurist ensemble member Caitlin Stainken) – she repeats this process, a kind of unnerving endurance-performance mugshot.  The repetition underscores the fact that the length of a song is a very long time to sit still and stare at someone forcing a smile.  From its first moments, director Greg Allen toys with the tension between frozen images and breathing bodies.

Caitlin Stainken in "I AM A CAMERA"

As the play unfolds, I AM A CAMERA comes to life on a screen, on a stage, in front of a screen, behind a screen, in silhouette, in darkness, in a momentary flash, beyond a screen, back in the audience, in and out of the audience, with the audience on a screen, in photographs scattered across a table, in motion, in stillness, in any combination of these and, of course, here and there it bubbles out of the image world into words. 

Rating: ★★★

cameraweb

PERFORMANCES: Opening Night: Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 8:00 p.m. Performances continue through March 13, 2010: Thurs/Fri/Sat at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $15, $10 for students/seniors with ID, or pay-what-you-can during previews and on Thursdays.

Limited seating, reservations highly recommended!! Go here to reserve tickets…

 

 

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2008 After Dark Awards Announced!

Gay Chicago Magazine has just announced this year’s After Dark AwardsBelow is an abbreviated list.  For the complete list, as well as production photos, go to Venus Zarris’s website: Chicago State Review

 

2008 After Dark Awards.  For more information go to ChicagoStageReviews.com

Best Production

Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

The Mark of Zorro (Lifeline Theatre)

Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)

 

Outstanding New Work

Sarah Ruhl – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Anna CariniSweet Confinement (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Tracy LettsSuperior Donuts (Steppenwolf Theatre)

 

Outstanding Adaptation

Shishir KurupMerchant on Venice (Silk Road Project)

Devon de Mayo and Ensemble – As Told By The Vivian Girls (Dog & Pony Theatre)

 

Outstanding Musical

Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)

 

Outstanding Direction

David Cromer – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

John MossmanJuno and the Paycock (Artistic Home)

Anna Bahow – Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Peter Robel – Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)

 

Outstanding Direction of a Musical

Fred Anzevino – “Cabaret” and Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)

 

Outstanding Musical Direction

Joshua Stephen Kartes – Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)

 

Outstanding Performance in a Play

Jennifer Grace – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

Mark Ulrich – Juno and the Paycock  (Artistic Home)

Nicole Wiesner – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Keland Scher – Much Ado About Nothing  (First Folio Theatre)

Madeline Long – Soldiers: The Desert Stand (LiveWire Chicago Theatre)

Sadieh Rafai – Speech and Debate (American Theatre Company)

Jeremy Sher – Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)

Annabel Armour – Fiction  (Remy Bumppo)

Jenn Remke – Resort 76  (Infamous Commonwealth)

Andy Hager – Red Light Winter (Thunder and Lightning Ensemble)

Polly Noonan – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts  (Goodman Theatre)

Nick Vatterott – Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy  (Annoyance Theatre)

Adam Kander – The Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)

 

Outstanding Performance in a Musical or Review

E. Faye Butler – Ain’t Misbehavin’   (Goodman Theatre)

Kat McDonnell – Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)

Summer Smart – Sweet Charity  (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Bethany Thomas – Nine  (Porchlight Music Theatre)

 

Outstanding Ensemble

Emma  (Trapdoor Theatre)

As Told by the Vivian Girls  (Dog & Pony Theatre)

Juno and the Paycock  (The Artistic Home)

Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Superior Donuts  (Steppenwolf Theatre)

 

For the complete listing of all 2008 After Dark Awards, including full descriptions and great pictures, go to my friend Venus Zarris’s theatre blog: www.chicagostagereview.com.   Go Venus!!