REVIEW: Gimme Change (3EyedMonster Theatre)

To have and have naught

 playinghouse4

 
3EyedMonster Theatre Company presents
 
Gimme Change: 3 short plays on homelessness
 
Written by Conor Woods, Joe Kwaczala and Megan O’Donoghue
Directed by Conor Woods, Megan O’Donohue, Bill DiPiero
at
Stage Left Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
through May 8th  |  tickets: $10  |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Three short plays, one topic—that’s the promise of 3EyedMonster, a new theater company delivering fresh new drama by young playwrights on current issues. Since its overall goal is to “invite active discussion,” Conor Woods – company founder, playwright, and actor – can take special satisfaction in achieving this goal. Gimme Change: three short plays on homelessness offers youthful energy and curbd4 perspective to a bear on a world-weary subject, fraught with all sorts of misconceptions and misdirection. The level of skill demonstrated by the production’s playwright cohort, which includes Woods, Joe Kwaczala and Megan O’Donoghue, shows surprising clarity, audacity, and sometimes just downright sophistication. The young cast not only keeps up with the material, but also invests the full expression of theatricality into its subject.

CURB’d, written and directed by Conor Woods, reveals layers of presumptions about homelessness through presenting the kind of discussion one recalls from college days. Three students, fulfilling a class assignment, sit on the sidewalk as panhandlers awaiting passers-by to donate a measly dollar to their kitty. What first seems like an easy assignment drags on interminably and the students reveal to each other their preconceptions about homelessness, poverty, and the best ways to get money from strangers. Each character also reveals their personal prejudices about each other in a sparring match over which is the best way to address homelessness. On the whole, CURB’d is an excellent introduction piece for the whole cycle, enough to cover typical misinformation about homelessness and begin investigations into one’s personal prejudices regarding poverty, the giving and receiving of money, and the importance of appearances. But the 25-minute format cannot cover all this and allow development for substantive characters. Woods must reach into the usual grab bag of student   stereotypes—which aren’t wholly wrong, just thin. Drew (Drew McElligott), Patricia (Megan O’Donoghue), and Brian (Mike Anderson) don’t get to evolve past acerbic accusation, whiny pontification, and dry, diffident noncommitment. Brian provides appropriate comic relief to Drew and Patricia’s self-involved battle, but the three-step dance between them begins to feel formulaic after 15 minutes.

standpoint2Standpoint by Joe Kwaczala is a performance art piece reminiscent of the 90s. Its dippy twists and turns address, and provide escapist diversion from, the subject of homelessness. Performing his own piece, but directed by Bill DiPiero, Kwaczala begins at the end; receiving over-the-top accolades for a performance we have not seen. Then he leaps into the cyclical performance. It’s a moment of self-congratulatory obsession that echoes the defenses used by some to avoid dire social conditions. Some of Kwaczala’s best moments are deeply inspired. Such as when he engages in parody of a character that thinks dealing with homelessness is “not that hard. You can get a job; it’s not that hard. You can get a shower; it’s not that hard . . .”—all the while putting sticks of gum into his mouth, one after the other, until the character can hardly speak for the globular mass that has accumulated. Here we have self-absorption, lack of awareness, lack of compassion, and perpetual consumption captured in a rapid-fire minute. Kwaczala’s piece suggests we can all be entertained and diverted from the stark reality of homelessness, even while being sent an engaging message about homelessness—from artists trying to reach people through entertainment on a subject that is anything but. Kwaczala moves quickly and lyrically through character after character, moment after diverting, humorous moment on the hypocrisy of  addressing homelessness in this way. However, what the piece needs now is a strong editing hand to “sharpen its message.” Sorry, but perpetual distraction from the subject of homelessness is, well, distracting and also soon becomes playinghouse2boring. One wonders how much further Kwaczala could develop his theme by focusing on what we cannot be distracted from regarding homelessness—namely, the fear of being in dire poverty ourselves one day.

Playing House by Megan O’Donoghue is the most successful of all three plays. It succeeds in exploring levels of truly comprehensive desperation around homelessness. Also, the pure theatricality of the work offers profound contemplation on creation and destruction in the reality of homeless children’s lives. A homeless girl and boy employ diverting play to pass the time while waiting for some parent (one hopes) to return and feed them. Among the detritus of their living space, they find old clothes for dress up and soon enact dialogue between a homeless woman (Meghan Hartmann) and a “rich bitch cunt” (Conor Woods) who looks down on her homeless condition. What follows is the kind of honest and humorous exchange one wishes would occur between have and have not. Woods gets to slay with lines like, “Betty Ford didn’t become homeless when she was addicted,” and “I voted for Obama because of people like you.” Hartman herself lays into the best homeless rant I have ever heard in literature, movies or theater. But even more, the children, through utterly engaged imagination, create a momentary release from homelessness that turns out to be as fragile as their prospects for survival. The other works may be clever, thoughtful pieces that can provoke dialogue, but they depend on the triptych for resonance. Playing House is not just a message, but also true, fully realized drama and can stand on its own.

 
Rating: ★★★
 

playinghouse3

    
   

Gorilla Tango Theatre: January 2010 schedule

whack1

Leslie Nesbit as Nancy Kerrigan and Cassie Cushman as Tonya Harding in WHACK!


January 2010 Calendar Listings for Gorilla Tango:

Mark & Laura’s Couples Advice Christmas Special is a satire based on TV’s self-proclaimed counseling gurus and the dysfunctional American family. Will Mark & Laura’s volatile relationship get in the way of their primetime debut or will Christmas be officially over?    Produced by Ryan McChesney.

Wednesdays at 8pm, December 2, 2009 – January 20, 2010 (no performances Dec. 23 & 30, 2009). Tickets are $10; Rated R.  More info here.


Give Us Money – Every Monday night in January, GIVE US MONEY will present the 23rd hour of the 24 hour telethon raising money for various causes such as: Prevention of 2012, Douchebag Syndrome, Make the McRib Permanent, and Plasma TV for Prison Inmates. Each week will feature different talent acts, and your hosts will take you through an hour of pure telethon. So stop by and show your support, and make sure to Give Us Money.  Produced by Jenny Staben. More info here

Mondays at 8pm, January 4 – 25, 2010. Tickets are $10; Rated R.


GRAY AREAS: Comedy, Music or Neither is a scripted experimental two-person comedic exploration of music. In terms of genre, style, and approach, there are no restrictions or boundaries; the only goal is to perform songs that can hold their weight both comedically and musically. Expect the following: a girl, a guy, vocals, keyboards, guitars, ukuleles, violins, xylophones, plus anything a computer can recreate and more!   Produced by Joe Kwaczala and Chelsea Devantez.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 8pm. Tickets are $10; Rated R.  More info here

$1,000 GTT Improv Thing

$1,000 GTT Improv Thing: Improv teams from throughout Chicago duke it out for:

  • A $1000 prize (possibly paid with one of those giant novelty checks)
  • A spot at the 2010 Chicago Improv Festival
  • A package of six Big Ass Hot Dogs (42lbs) from BigAssHotDog.com

Produced by GTT.

Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, January 8 – 30, 2010. Tickets are $12; Rated R. More info here


A Look Through Our Eyes

“A Look Through Our Eyes: An Experimental Production about Citizens’ Views, Struggles, Experiences and Reactions to 9/11.”  Written & Directed by Darius “T.Q.” Colquitt

Loosely based on actual interviews, “A Look Through Our Eyes“ steps into the lives of 8 individuals who were directly and indirectly affected by the 9/11 Tragedy. The Social, Economic, Religious, Mental and Generational Differences of the world are highlighted in this production, filled with thought-provokingly real points-of-view on a subject that most are afraid to discuss. Produced by Nu Xpression Theatrics.

Friday, January 8 and Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 10pm and Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 6pm. Tickets are $10; Rated R.  More info here


Improvised Simpsons: Television’s most beloved animated family comes to life on stage! Anything can happen in the town of Springfield, especially when there isn’t a script. The performance mixes long-form improvisation with classic characters from the show, new locations and situations, and audience suggestions.  Produced by Jonathan Silver.

Saturdays at 11:30pm, January 9 – 30, 2010. Tickets are $10; Rated R. More info here


Sketch & Sniff: We sketched, now you sniff! Don’t miss SKETCH AND SNIFF if you enjoy watching awkward relationships unfold! Glimpses into romances, bromances, dysfunctional family moments, and uncomfortable office situations are just a few comic gems that S&S has to offer. Don’t miss out on this aromatic opportunity.  Produced by Derick Lengwenus.

Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 10pm. Tickets are $10; Rated R. More info here


WHACK! The Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Story, A Karaoke Musical: From the creators of the Tabloid Musical Series (including the Mary Kay Letourneau and Amy Fisher karaoke musicals) comes this delightful tale, just in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver! Featuring tunes in the style of Disney, WHACK! delves deep behind the scenes to discover what REALLY lead up to the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan’s knee. Tonya Harding – Crazy Psycho or Underestimated Heroine? Nancy Kerrigan – Perfect Princess or Evil Genius? You decide.

Produced by Gorilla Tango Theatre.

Thursdays at 9:30pm, January 21 – February 25, 2010. Tickets are $15; Rated R. More info here

Picture at top of this posting is from Whack!  See more pictures by clicking on each of the numbers: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


Real Bro’s of DuPage County takes you on a journey of the Bro mind. From outrageous choices in clothing, to relationships and borderline sociopathy, Real Bro’s will knock your socks off with our roofie brand of comedy!   Produced by Christian Weber

Saturdays at 10pm, January 23 & 30, 2010. Tickets are $10; Rated R. More info here


All photos except "QueenNancy" by Kelly Williams; "Queen Nancy" by Bryan Cohen.