Review: Arms and the Man (ShawChicago)

     
     

A well-acted, comedic pretend!

     
     

Arms and the Man - poster

  
ShawChicago presents
  
Arms and the Man
  
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Robert Scogin
at DCA Studio Theatre, 78 E. Washington (map)
through May 15  |  tickets: $10-$22  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

A young girl is enchanted by war.  Her plan for survival is to close her eyes and cover her ears.  When the enemy advances through her window, she must rethink her strategy.  ShawChicago presents Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw.  In a Bulgarian village, the Petkoffs are treated like royalty.  They have wealth, servants and a library.  Their pampered lives have them glossing over the bad stuff… even war!  The arrival of a tattered soldier into their home changes everything.  At first, the armed man is a harbored rebel.  When he returns to the house, he’s a dark, secret indiscretion for mother and daughter and an honored guest to father and fiance.  Who is the chocolate cream soldier really?  Arms and the Man is a witty make-love-not-war farce.

As is the ShawChicago tradition, Arms and the Man is billed technically as a staged reading.  A staged reading has no costumes, no sets and no physical movement.  And actors read from the script and don’t interact with each other. As often is the case at ShawChicago, Arms and the Man falls closer to ‘play‘ than ‘staged reading.‘  Under the direction of Robert Scogin, the talented ensemble use vocal stylings, facial expressions and limited gestures for powerful impact.  With ‘noble attitude and thrilling voice,‘ both Jhenai Mootz (Raina) and Ian Novak (Sergius) are hysterical exaggerated versions of the upper-crust.  Shiny-eyed optimist, Mootz charms with her amusing grandiosity.  Staying within his small designated space, Novak throws s a magnificent red-faced, body convulsing tantrum.  Kate Young (Catherine) is animated with elegant sophistication and natural animosity.  When her husband muses that ‘Raina always happens at the right moment,‘ Young zings the one liner with a droll ‘yes, she listens for it.’  Christian Gray (Bluntschli) ends the show in tears.  Gray is beautifully swept up in the romantic moment and weeps.

It’s Gray’s and the others’ level of character interpretation that pushes Arms and the Man away from ‘staged reading’ and up the spectrum to ‘play.‘  The entire cast performs magic.  Sure, in the beginning, it’s a bare stage with music stands holding scripts.  But as the actors connect on an in-depth level with the audience, theatrical imagination produces the window, the bed, the chocolate creams.  The charade constructs the majestic house on the hill.  You see it because the actors feel it.  Arms and the Man is well-acted, comedic pretend!   

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

George Bernard Shaw writing

ShawChicago’s Arms and the Man continues at the DCA Studio Theatre, 77 E. Washington, through May 15th, with performances Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm; Mondays at 7pm.  Running Time:  One hour and fifty minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission. Tickets are $10-$22, and can be purchased online or at the door.

  
  

REVIEW: The Philadelphia Story (Circle Theatre)

‘The Philadelphia Story’ haunted by ghosts of movies past

 

Kevin Anderson, Laura McClain, and Josh Hambrock

   
Circle Theatre presents
   
The Philadelphia Story
   
Written by Philip Barry
Directed by Jim Schneider
at Circle Theatre, 7300 Madison, Forest Park (map)
Through Sept. 5   |   Tickets: $20–$24 |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Any production of The Philadelphia Story naturally evokes celluloid comparisons to Kathryn Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart in the 1940 film. Inspired by the real life Main Line heiress Hope Montgomery Scott, the class-conscious play opened in 1939 with Hepburn as spoiled, self-righteous rich girl Tracy Lord — a role she reprised in the Oscar-winning film. The Philadelphia Story also formed the basis for the 1956 musical, High Society, so there are those movie memories to contend with, too.

Katelyn Smith, Jhenai Mootz, and Josh Hambrock Yet that shouldn’t mean a theater can’t put its own spin on the show. In its one big drawback, Circle Theatre’s production too often feels like a ghostly reenactment of the film.

Laura McClain, as Tracy, channels Hepburn for all she’s worth, while Josh Hambrock, as journalist Macauley "Mike" Connor, appears possessed by Stewart, with every drawl and facial twitch down pat. It’s uncannily fascinating, but I went to the theater to see a play, not to participate in a séance.

As Tracy’s ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven, Kevin Anderson (not to be confused with Kevin Anderson), deserves kudos for not trying to reanimate Cary Grant. Unfortunately, his coolly puckish performance sometimes comes off as more smirking than suave. Moreover, his interactions with the others seem to accentuate their derivative mannerisms.

However, if you can get over the sense that you might just as well have stayed home with Netflix, Philip Barry’s dryly witty script transcends all.

On the verge of Tracy’s second marriage, Connor, who has become reluctantly infatuated, and Haven, with some help from Tracy’s smart-aleck kid sister (spunky, smut-faced Katelyn Smith), are bent on trying to prevent Tracy from wedding her stuffy, middle-class fiancé, George Kittredge (an appropriately stiff Luke Renn). The priggish Kittredge determinedly puts her on a pedestal. Though impatient with human frailties — the philandering of her father (Tom Viskocil), for example, and her former husband’s drinking — Tracy isn’t so sure she likes being cast as an ice goddess.

Josh Hambrock and Laura McClain Luke Renn, Laura McClain, Josh Hambrock, and Kevin Anderson

Bob Knuth’s elegant drawing-room set and Elizabeth Wislar‘s smart period costumes (particularly for lovely Jhenai Mootz, who portrays a world-weary Elizabeth Imbrie, the photographer who accompanies Connor to the Lords’ home) give us a handsome look back in time. Director Jim Schneider has wisely kept the original three-act format.

Some of the sensibilities behind this farce seem dated today, but it’s still an awfully funny comedy. If you aren’t bothered by ghosts, you’ll like this production fine.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
  

Entire cast of Philadelphia Story - Circle Theatre - 006

 Entire Cast of "Philadelphia Story”   

 

     
     

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Review: Village Players’ “You Can’t Take It With You”

You Can't Take It With You

 Village Players Theater presents

You Can’t Take It With You

by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
directed by Jack Hickey
runs through Nov. 22 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

take-it-with-you During hard times, people seek the warmth of the well-known, the solace of childhood memory and happier days. In dining, that means comfort food. The stage equivalent — comfort theater, if you will — arises in low-risk revivals.

So, this season has seen Animal Crackers at the Goodman Theatre, a revival of a 1928 Marx Brothers comedy.  Porchlight Theatre did The Fantasticks, that long-running off-Broadway favorite. Marriott Theatre revived Hairspray, a 2002 Broadway hit based on a 1988 cult film set in 1962. And so on.

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart‘s quirky You Can’t Take It With You needs no economic crisis to be worth a remount. Although this 1937 Pulitzer Prize winner certainly shows its origins in the Great Depression, You Can’t Take It With You is one of the funniest and most endearing plays of the 20th century. The New York Times’ Brooks Atkinson called the original production "tickling fun," and so it remains.

Everyone should know this play. If you’ve never seen it, take advantage of Village Players‘ fine production in Oak Park.

A little acquaintance with 1930s popular history will enrich your experience, but it’s by no means required. Some understanding of the times in which the play was written may be needed to surmount 21st-century sensibilities, though for its period, You Can’t Take It With You seems quite progressive.

The farce follows the eccentric Sycamore family. Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (Paul Tinsley), the retired patriarch, has spent 35 years going to college commencements, collecting snakes and avoiding income tax.

His daughter, Penelope (Judith Laughlin), has spent the past eight years engaged in writing never-finished plays. Penny’s husband, Paul Sycamore (Errol McLendon), manufactures fireworks in the basement with help from the family’s lodger, Mr. DePinna (Eric Cowgill). Housekeeper Rheba (Elana Elyce), serves up dinners of corn flakes, watermelon and mystery meat and entertains her unemployed boyfriend, Donald (Ronaldo Coxon), overnight.

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Granddaughter Essie (Zoe Palko) makes candies for sale but spends every spare moment practicing, unsuccessfully, to be a ballerina. As her boisterous Russian dance teacher, Boris Kolenkhov (Jeff McVann), puts it, "She stinks." Essie’s husband, Ed Carmichael (Josh Wintersteen), prints up unlikely circulars on a hobby letterpress and plays the xylophone.

The most conventional member of the clan, granddaughter Alice (Jhenai Mootz), a secretary, is in love with her boss’s son, Tony Kirby (Bryan Wakefield), though she fears her beloved but trying family won’t pass muster with his stuffy, Wall Street father (James Turano) and snobbish socialite mother (Katherine Keberlein). Also drifting through the scenes are an irritated IRS investigator (Michael M. Jones), a couple of G-men (Jones and Anthony Collaro), a drunken actress and the Russian Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (Courtney Boxwell).

They don’t write plays like this one anymore.

Village Players’ whole cast and crew merit kudos for this nicely presented ensemble piece. Director Jack Hickey paces his actors well, keeping things moving and the comedy coming. As Grandpa, Tinsley is perhaps overly laconic, but Laughlin does an especially sweet job as Penny, and Palko is wonderfully zany as Essie. Coxon offers some rare comic turns as Donald, as well.

Ricky Lurie‘s effective period costumes deserve mention, too, particularly Essie’s absurd ballet bloomers.

It’s tickling fun!

Rating: «««

 

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