REVIEW: Mid-Winter’s Tales ‘09 (ShawChicago)

Unwrap This Holiday Present NOW!

 

ShawChicago presents

Mid-Winter’s Tales 09

At the Ruth Page Theatre (1016 N. Dearborn)
Adapted and directed by Belinda Bremner

December 18th-21st (ticket info: 312-587-7390) 

By Katy Walsh

Before the age of electronic entertainment, communities gathered around the fireplace to tell stories. With the wind howling outside and increased hours of darkness, families told tales to amuse themselves and brighten the long nights of winter. ShawChicago presents Mid-Winter’s Tales 09, a collection of multi-generational stories and songs. Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 mixes it up with a variety of author samplings from a W.B. Yeats’ poem followed by a column snippet from Chicago’s own Mike Royko to, of course, words of wisdom from George Bernard Shaw. Although the show celebrates the winter solstice with cultural representation leaning in an English direction, it balances out the traditional Christmas fruitcake focus with a double helping of lakes (pronounced la keys).

With the aid of DVDs to set the holiday mood, I’ve memorized many lines from the retelling of stories, like; “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and “Christmas in Connecticut.” To my delight, Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 shares an unfamiliar collection of holiday stories. “The Wise Men of Chelm and the Miracle Lakes” is a stone soup rofendition about potato pancakes entertainingly led by ensemble member John Francisco. Mary Michell is hilarious in corresponding with her true love and his clever gift-giving in “Not Another Partridge in a Pear Tree.” Living in the generation of holiday gluttony, the moments that melt icicle-hearts are the recalling of children’s holidays in “Hilda Sutt Polchek Remembers Christmas at the Hull House” and “Scarlett Ribbons.

Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 is performed on a bare stage with guitar (Rachel Schiff) and violin (Blake Hackler) accompaniment. This strings-only music adds an undertone of sad winter quiet – that at times the amplified music competes with the non-miked cast. The actors are a talented band of storytellers. In the dreary winter evening, without a Christmas tree and a menorah to look at, the audience focuses on the actors’ facial expressions and their words. Spoiled lately from the grandeur of big musical productions, it’s hard to adjust to the sparse stage. Because Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 represents simpler times of storytelling, the plainness has an authentic and intimate quality.

Although an exploration of multi-religious representation of winter solstice could prove to be even more interesting, this 2009 focus on Jewish folklore promotes both understanding of its traditions and strong cravings for lakes (even though and I don’t like potatoes!).

 

Rating: ★★★

 

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Review: Piven Theatre’s “Two by Pinter: The Lover and The Collection”

Piven needs to push the envelope

 Grimm & Black

 

Piven Theatre Workshop presents:

Two by Pinter: “The Lover and “The Collection

by Harold Pinter
directed by Joyce Piven
thru November 15th (buy tickets) 

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Grimm & Black - V Two early works by Harold Pinter, The Lover (1962) and The Collection (1961) onstage now at Piven Theatre Workshop, probably shocked their audiences when they first premiered. Replete with BDSM and homoerotic undertones, they explore the games people play while maintaining or establishing control within a marriage or among multiple sexual relationships. Quite appropriately, you won’t find leather, whips, or chains in founder Joyce Piven’s interpretation of these little capsules of Pinter. But that doesn’t mean the dramatic stakes should be any lower for lack of accoutrement. There’s plenty of emotional sadomasochism to go around and charge the evening with peril.

Dana Black (Sarah) and Lawrence Grimm (Richard) in The Lover are certainly well paired as a married couple spicing up their relationship with their own version of extra-marital dalliances. Both are excellent in expressing an aloofness that masks the need for control in the dynamics of their sexual cat-and-mouse play.

Strangely, though, lack of chemistry plagues their efforts to depict characters with a driving need to play these games, for whatever reason. Since cool surface adherence to social pleasantry is as much a part of this couple’s game as anything else, it’s difficult to suggest just when lust and risk, danger and fear should emerge to take the foreground. But take place it must or the audience will sense the actors are playing it safe or that there are no stakes here worth playing for—either in physical or emotional safety for these characters. Black’s performance compellingly pulls the action toward the risk of intimacy, but that risk has to stand in stark contrast to the politically incorrect possibility of violence and subjugation.

Reed & Francisco - VThe Collection fares a little better since actors Jay Reed (James) and John Francisco (Bill) take more risks, especially in venturing toward the violent. Francisco’s Bill is charming, erotic, and shifty enough to take on any role he feels required of him in the moment; Reed plays James with just the right suggestion of privilege and pomposity that gets him into trouble later on. It’s in this second one-act that Grimm, as Harry, gets to pour on Pinter’s icy, savage language with a relish he seems denied as Richard in the first one-act. It’s a play with more teeth in it–but even then, the actors could push it a little farther.

There you have it–at the risk of sounding gratuitous, let there be more sex, more violence. These are middle class people with dark, dark dreams. I respect the need not to be over the top, but pulling punches also does grave disservice to Pinter’s works. Piven and cast must demonstrate that they are not afraid to go into the night.

Rating: ««½

 Reed & Francisco - H

 

Productions Personnel

Playwright: Harold Pinter
Director: Joyce Piven
Prod. Manager: Jodi Gottberg
Lighting Design: Seth Reinick
Sound Design: Collin Warren
Props Design: Linda Laake
Dialect Coach: Jodi Gottberg
Set Design: Aaron Menninga
Stage Manager: John Kearns
Cast: Dana Black
John Francisco
Jay Reed
Lawrence Grimm