REVIEW: Shining City (Redtwist Theatre)

  
  

God is elusive in Redtwist’s captivating ‘Shining City’

 
 

Brian Parry and John Arthur Lewis in Redtwist Theatre's 'Shining City' - photo Andrew Jessop

  
Redtwist Theatre presents
  
Shining City
  

Written by Conor McPherson
Directed by
Joanie Schultz 
at
Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through Feb 27  |  tickets: $25-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

There is a moment in Redtwist’s Shining City where, lurking behind a door, a split-second spark of divinity is revealed. It is bloodied, silent, and is at once horrifying and reassuring.

To call Conor McPherson’s play a “ghost story” would imply it provides some answer to the nature and existence of another world or its inhabitants. But in the streets and isolated dwellings of McPherson’s Dublin, there is no such certainty. Even when an apparition is in plain sight, its significance, meaning and reality is just painfully out of Brian Parry and John Arthur Lewis in Redtwist Theatre's 'Shining City'. Photo by Andrew Jessopreach.

This play is rather, for all its melancholy and despair, a love story.

Set in an upstairs therapist’s office, Shining City chronicles the sessions of middle-aged widower John (the superb Brian Parry), and his ex-priest doctor, Ian (John Arthur Lewis). After the sudden death of his wife, John has begun to see visions of his spouse, moving him out of his home and into a local inn. Ian, wrestling with his own losses, has just left the woman he abandoned the Church for. The mother of Ian’s child, Neasa (Cheryl Lynn Golemo) struggles to exist separated in the unwelcoming company of Ian’s family. Two months flash between each scene, and as time goes on, the three slip further away from any assurance of who they are or the morality of the decisions they’ve made.

Each of these characters are, in one way or another, in limbo. They are all lost between homes, identities, loves, or sexualities, and seek escape in all the wrong ways. Director Joanie Schultz comments in her program note that she calls upon her own experience living out of a suitcase to relate an ambience of no refuge, which she accomplishes brilliantly in this production. Redtwist’s nearly claustrophobic performance space serves to amplify the overtones of each character’s underlying fear and wanting. Much of the action is relayed through long, patient storytelling, and just as John cannot escape his guilt and anxiety, we as the audience are seated almost in the hyper-realistic office right there with him, his deep-gravel, hypnotic voice only feet away. These characters are richly drawn, and this ensemble does great Cheryl Lynn Golemo and John Arthur Lewis in Redtwist Theatre's 'Shining City'. Photo by Andrew Jessopjustice to them, supplying flaws and sympathies to their humanity.

In the intimate setting, no detail goes unnoticed, and play’s production team has created a scrupulously complete environment, from the window’s view of a cathedral to the ideal selection of transitional music.

McPherson doesn’t appear to relish the hell he puts his characters through, making their struggle all the more real and painful to watch. It also makes their redemption that much more believable and satisfying.

Shining City’s finale may prove to be divisive for some audiences. I encourage them to take note of John’s declared realization when considering the play’s last image: it isn’t the fact of what happens that’s important, but instead the effect. Regardless of their conclusion, the effect–like this production–will be moving.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
 
 

Kaelan Strouse and John Arthur Lewis in Redtwist Theatre's 'Shining City'. Photo by Andrew Jessop

Production continues through February 27th – Thu, Fri, Sat at 7:30pm and Sun at 3pm. No performance on Sun, Feb 6, but an add’l perf on Sat, Feb 26, 3pm.  The show’s running time is approximately 1:40 with no intermission. Tickets: Thursdays, $25; Fridays & Sundays, $27; Saturdays, $30 (seniors & students $5 off).  More info: www.redtwist.org/Tickets.html.

     
     

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Review: Kingsville (Stage Left Theatre)

   

Exposing the poisonous threads of macho culture

   
    

Nick DiLeonardi as Mike and Andrew Raia as Justin  – Photo by Lila Stromer

     
Stage Left Theatre presents
 
Kingsville
    
Written by Andrew Hinderaker
Directed by Vance Smith
at
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
through November 21  |    tickets: $22-$28 |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

When the student gunmen opened fire at Columbine High School in 1999, the nation took a collective gasp. The very idea that schools could become a place of intentional yet random mass murder was unimaginable and so shocking as to defy belief. Today when students commit in-school murders, they’re met not so much with shock and disbelief as they are with a sense of tragic resignation. The headlines are regional or even local rather than national because on a national scale, school shootings are no longer front page, above-the-fold news. It is as if the world has become comfortably numb to the idea that childhood is a time of danger as much as of innocence.

That sad fact makes Andrew Hinderaker’s Kingsville all the more forceful. Delving the troubled world of a high school reeling from a student shooting, Kingsville is heart-breaking in its veracity and its sensitivity. In its world premiere at Stage Left, Kingsville Kingsville - Stage Left Theatre is also  powerful indelving the related topic of bullying; the sort of relentless, dehumanizing abuse that can drive young people to the violence borne of utter despair. Or at least it is for the first half or so of the play.

For all its many merits, Kingsville loses much of its impact when its plot swerves away from its young protagonists and into the world of an adult who does something so far-fetched it’ll make your eyes roll in disbelief. We’re not going to give away the action here – that would be a major spoiler. Suffice to say, Hinderaker’s narrative ultimately sinks under the weight of its own preposterousness.  Until then, Kingsville is a richly compelling story as it mines the volatile, triple-threatening world of adolescence, machismo and guns. Moreover, director Vance Smith has a remarkable pair of young men in the two key roles that anchor the piece.
Andrew Raia plays Justin, a high schooler who has been the target of brutal locker room harassment. Nick DiLeonardi plays Justin’s best (perhaps only) friend Mike, a high school outcast who has found empowerment – and relief from all-consuming loneliness and self-loathing – by learning to shoot at a local teen center. Raia nails the rage, frustration and desperation of a young man for whose daily life is defined by humiliation and dread. It’s with stunning impact that Raia delivers a monologue describing the abuse – the details are excruciating, but it isn’t just the particulars that make the sene so harrowing. Raia taps into an anguish that’s almost unbearably raw and authentic. DiLeonardi’s Mike  seems – superficially at least – more laid back than the deeply wounded Justin, but he’s just as heart-breaking: A fundamentally decent kid driven to do something terrible simply because he doesn’t have the tools to cope with with all the badness around him.

The adults in Kingsville aren’t as effective, primarily because the characters feel more like representations of opposing points of view more than actual people. Wayne (John Arthur Lewis), reeling from the death of his son in a school shooting, advocates arming students so that they aren’t sitting ducks if a gunman opens fire on a classroom. Justin’s father James (John Ferrick) passionately opposes Wayne, a stance that has been an excuse for Justin’s tormentors to take their bullying to heinous levels of cruelty.

Hinderaker also has Audrey, a lecturer (Cat Dean) punctuate the piece, relaying the results of a startling and revealing study about contemporary attitudes about machismo. Audrey’s direct address, like that dubious plot development, detracts from Kingsville more than it adds to the production. The speeches are didactic, and while they offer some eye-opening information, they put a hitch in the storytelling. When the action stops so that Audrey can break in with academic commentary on kids and guns, the audience is bumped out of the story and into a virtual lecture hall.

What Kingsville does well is show how integrated the poisonous threads of macho man culture are within the tapestry of gun culture. They provide the basis of a fantastic, if ultimately unbelievable, story.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Kingsville - poster

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REVIEW: Daddy Long Legs (Bruised Orange Theatre)

Beatings on the beach more fun than you’d think

 

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Bruised Orange Theater Company presents
 
Daddy Long Legs
  
By Clint Sheffer
Directed by John Morrison
Leone Beach Park, 1222 W. Touhy  (map)
Through Aug. 1  | 
Tickets: $15 or pay what you can  | more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

On a beautiful summer’s day, even the most ardent drama lovers might be reluctant to be cooped up in a dark and stuffy theater. So Bruised Orange Theater Company has come to the rescue. With their cleverly staged, site-specific, one-act, gangster mystery, Daddy Long Legs, you can get your fix of theater and go to the beach.

DSCN0489 The theater company provides your choice of beach chairs or blankets on the sand next to the breakwater at Leone Beach Park and the fun, 50-minute show won’t take too much time away from your evening.

An original play by Bruised Orange’s Clint Sheffer, Daddy Long Legs takes place in the wake of the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day massacre when two small-time mobsters, Bobby Widdle and Mars Streznick, meet on the Chicago lakefront with a bloody sack. The fictional Daddy Long Legs of Sheffer’s title is a mysterious Chicago gangland figure, alluded to in awed tones by the two men as a secret force behind the mob. (This Daddy Long Legs has nothing to do with the 1912 Jean Webster novel of the same name. The basis for the 1955 Fred Astaire movie, the Webster novel the source of the new John Caird musical scheduled to open at Northlight Theatre in the fall.)

Widdle, worried about his missing wife, Jane, demands answers. Streznick says he knows where she is but won’t tell. He’s also close-mouthed about the contents of the bag, and insists that the two must wait on the deserted beach because of "orders" from a higher-up in the organization. The pugnacious Widdle, who believes Jane and Streznick are two-timing him, starts throwing punches, and the two mix it up while trading barbed insults and threats.

I never thought I’d enjoy watching two men beat up each other on the beach, but Sheffer, as Widdle, and John Arthur Lewis as Streznick, create strongly believable characters, and their fisticuffs in the sand become surprisingly compelling. Kudos to Fight Choreographer Wes Clark..

The setting adds a good deal of charm. You can hardly get a more beautiful backdrop than Lake Michigan, and even the weather seemed to get in on the act during the opening performance, with lowering clouds and distant flashes of lightning at dramatic moments while Sheffer and Lewis rolled on the sand, inches from the roiling surf.

Sheffer’s terse gangster dialogue and Director John Morrison’s lively beachfront staging keep us engaged until the resolution of the mystery and the appearance of Jane (a cartoonish performance by Alison Connelly), when the plot starts to go off the deep end and the playwright indulges in some awful puns. Yet despite its uneven quality, Daddy Long Legs makes a highly agreeable way to while away an hour in the out of doors.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Note: Parking is $1 per hour up to 7 p.m. in the lot at the north end of the park. No restroom facilities are available.

REVIEW: The Ghost Sonata (Oracle Theatre)

Oracle’s ‘Ghost Sonata’ doesn’t sing

 

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Oracle Theatre presents
 
The Ghost Sonata
 
by August Strindberg
directed by Max Truax
at Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway (map)
through June 19th  |  tickets: $10-$20  |  more info

by Barry Eitel

August Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata is a tough play to crack open. Written over a century ago, the masterpiece is considered a wonder of Modernist drama. Therefore, it has plenty of bizarre twists and characterizations (vampires and ghosts, anyone?).  Especially now, when we’re used to straightforward stories force-fed through movies and television, the piece is hard to navigate. Oracle Theatre and director Max Truax certainly take up this challenge with their heavily-expressionistic version. Even though they engage Strindberg with honesty and compassion, the end product leaves us bewildered and groping for answers.

ghost_sonata_press_2_resizeYou may want to read a translation of the play before setting out for this production. Truax and his driven cast seem very concerned with conveying mood and themes, but to the detriment of plot and clarity. I had the feeling that everyone onstage knew what was going on but I wasn’t completely welcome. It was like looking through a very dusty window. After a few scenes, it is possible to piece together the general story, but this production doesn’t help much in terms of leading the audience through Strindberg’s dense text.

Truax and his design team create a bizarrely fascinating world, conquering the sometimes awkward Oracle space. There were some amazing stage pictures formed by Truax (doubling as set designer), who whipped up some awesome forced perspective. Although the video projections sometimes confuse the storyline, Michael Janicki’s work fits the twisted world well, with vaguely Victorian black-and-white images appearing in a frame above the action.

The audience enters to Rich Logan looking all comatose in a wheelchair. As the elderly Jacob Hummel, he pushes and manipulates the play forward, imparting plenty of creepiness to the already dark script. Strindberg’s text revolves around a Student (Federico Rodriguez), who meets a cast of wacky characters, including the scheming Hummel, a mummy (Ann Sonneville), a ghostly maid (Lily Emerson), and a dead guy (John Arthur Lewis). Again, even though each of the actors understands and brings life to their characters, the gothic world is not very well explained. Rodriguez carries the show, although sometimes he doesn’t recognize the close relationship he has to the audience. Stephanie Polt fits well into the oppressive world as the object of the Student’s affection, but Sean Ewert as her father, the Colonel, doesn’t match the others. Justin Warren can also fall out of the production’s universe, but he brings some much needed comic relief.

While the performances usually deeply connect to the text, they don’t fit into the space. Truax and his actors seem unaware of how to utilize Oracle’s intimate stage. When emotions run high, the actors often resort to screaming. The audience gets irritated and interest flags. In such an enclosed and small theatre, overplaying can be disastrous. This Ghost Sonata isn’t ruined by yelling, but some over-the-top moments knock down the impact of the play.

Besides clarity, the biggest issue afflicting Truax’s production is a lack of humor. Yes, this is a dark, turn-of-the-century, proto-Expressionistic script, but there has to be some releases—Strindberg, being a master dramatist, pens them in. Avoiding the humor can make the play feel highly melodramatic and uninteresting. There are some nuggets of humor, but most of it is swept away to make way for dreariness.

Truax’s production is very conceptual and looks pretty cool, but fails to respect Strindberg’s text. The focus is too much on theme and not enough on story. The talent is obviously there; with a few exceptions, it seemed like the whole cast was on-board and clicking with each other. The design makes some very innovative choices that you might not expect from a storefront. Oracle’s Achilles’ Heal here is storytelling; Truax finds great skin but uses a weak skeleton.

  
  
Rating: ★★
 
 

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