Review: The Master and Margarita (Strawdog Theatre)

  
  

Strawdog explores intersection of religion, magic, insanity – and actors

  
  

(From L to R): Kyle Gibson (Ivan), Tom Hickey (Woland) and Rob Thomas (Berlioz) in Strawdog's "The Master and Margarita". 
Photo by Chris Ocken

  
Strawdog Theatre presents
  
The Master and Margarita
   
Adapted by Edward Kemp
Based on novel by
Mikhail Bulgakov
Directed by
Louis Contey
at
Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway (map)
through April 2  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

As artistic differences threaten the theatrical production of Pontius Pilate, Satan arrives in town to set the record straight. Strawdog Theatre presents The Master and Margarita. In anti-religion Moscow, a writer works feverishly to create a masterpiece play. His girlfriend Margarita believes he is ‘The Master’ and is willing to do anything to support his writing. The government’s theatrical department interferes with his show. They want to ensure Pontius Pilate discredits Jesus’ existence. Satan and his cronies visit for a little civilization observation. They also want to get their magic show on the stage. Arrested, committed, beheaded, the poor souls of Russia are in chaos. When Satan sheds insight into mortals’ psyches, the balance of life has a peaceful neutralization. The Master and Margarita blurs the division between magic and religion, imagination and psychoses, theatrical and actual, life and death.

Dennis Grimes (Master) and Justine C. Turner (Margarita) in Strawdog's 'The Master and Margarita'. Photo by Chris Ocken.Is it a play about a play about the historical decision maker Pontius Pilate? Or is it the full blown hallucination from an asylum inmate? Is it pro-religion or just anti- being anti? The Master and Margarita is for certain an epic of biblical portions. On a primarily stark set, crowd scenes are choreographed using cast as colorful and changing scenery. The large ensemble is white-faced (make-up designer Aly Renee Amidei) and sometimes black-masked. (Special nod to Amidei for the Centurion’s makeup: I was transfixed.) The mass unified look effectively emphasizes the alternating mood from theatrical to threatening to comical to spooky. Costume designer Joanna Melville goes hellish, dressing up an underworld ball in goth prom attire. The vibrant swirl of activity is non-stop. Under the direction of Louis Contey, the multiple themes and scene transitions flow smoothly and briskly into the next.

A plethora of Russian names, myriad of actors playing numerous roles, and the whitening effect add to a quandary of identification. Among the easily recognized, the damned bunch are hilarious misfits. Tom Hickey (Woland aka Satan) leads with smug wisdom and a surprising twisted kindness. Anderson Lawfer (Behemoth) is hysterical as a talking cat. Without even that many lines, Lawfer drawls the funny out with a bow tie without pants comment. Double-vision, Danny Taylor (Fagott) has a comedic and mysterious allure. Anita Deely (Azazello) is the non-nonsense assistant from hell. As the enduring lovers, Dennis Grimes (The Master) is a gentle martyr-type and Justine Turner (Margarita) is his strong lovely rescuer. The entire ensemble are convincing as actors playing theatre types, actors playing crazies or actors playing people going to hell… or maybe there isn’t a distinction.

The first act is a bubbling manifesto of intriguing confusion. The intermission is a pause from the frenzy to admit uncertainty to the point of the show. At some point in act two, there is an ‘A-ha moment.‘ All the dots connect for art open to interpretation. To sum it up, the cat said it best in one of the final scenes, ‘now, I get this play!’ What the cat said!

     
     
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Guests at the Ball of the Damned, a scene from "The Master and Margarita". Photo by Chris Ocken

The Master and Margarita continues through April 2nd, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 4pm. There is no performanceSunday, April 3. Tickets are $20 with group, senior and student discounts available. Tickets may be ordered by calling 773.528.9696 or by visiting www.strawdog.org.

Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes with a ten minute intermission

     
     

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REVIEW: The Water Engine: An American Fable (Theatre 7)

  
  

Suspenseful Mamet play recalls 1930s Chicago

 
 

Cassy Sanders, Brian Stojak and Dan McArdle in Water Engine - Theatre Seven

   
Theatre Seven presents
 
The Water Engine: An American Fable
   
By David Mamet
Directed by Brian Golden
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
Through Dec. 19  | 
Tickets: $12–25  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Set in Chicago in 1934, David Mamet’s rarely mounted 1977 drama, The Water Engine: An American Fable, currently in a beautifully nuanced production by Theatre Seven, takes us back in time to the Century of Progress World’s Fair. Charles Lang, a punch-press operator in a factory by day, dreamy inventor by night, has created an engine that runs on pure water. He dreams it will put an end to factories and bring him a peaceful life in the country with his unworldly sister.

Brett Lee in Water Engine - Theatre SevenChicago history buffs, alternate-history fans and anyone who enjoys great, intimate theater should take this show in. While it’s set too late to be steampunk, this arguably science-fictional play has a similar feel. Brenda Windstead’s 1930s costumes and John Wilson’s sound-stage set transport us to another time, one that almost-but-not-quite existed.

But "autres temps, autres moeurs" does not apply here. In fact, it’s business very much as usual. In his effort to patent his invention, Lang runs afoul of a scheming shyster who tries to sell him and his creation into nefarious corporate hands. I don’t doubt that many would-be world-shaking discoveries meet similar fates today.

Although the plot is stridently black and white, it’s also edge-of-the-seat suspenseful, and Mamet brings in all sorts of fascinating sidelines, such as a recurring theme about a chain letter, period-style advertising and the world’s fair itself. The action cris-crosses Chicago, from the fairgrounds to still-extant spots such as the Aragon Ballroom and Bughouse Square.

Mamet originally wrote this short script, which runs about 80 minutes without intermission, as a radio play, and Director Brian Golden’s exciting staging effectively blends radio-style performance with more animated action in imaginative ways. His cast includes Theatre Seven company members Dan McArdle, Cassy Sanders, Brian Stojak and George Zerante, as well as Brett Lee, Lindsey Pearlman, Cody Proctor, Alina Tabor, Jessica Thigpen and Travis Williams.

Charles Lang in Water Engine - Theatre SevenEach cast member plays multiple roles in this play within a radio play. In fact, the 10 cast members portray over 40 parts, skillfully depicting radio actors, principals in the radio play and random Chicagoans in wonderful character sketches.

In the longest role, Proctor plays Lang with well-executed, nervous nerdiness. Zerante smarms as the crooked lawyer, and Williams menaces as the corporation muscle. Pearlman delightfully segues from refined actress to ranging street-corner orator to gruff storekeeper. Newcomer Tabor adds wide-eyed youthful charm.

The whole ensemble works together like a well-oiled machine.

 
   
Rating: ★★★★   
   
   

Cassy Sanders, Travis Williams, Jessica Thigpen, Brian Stojak, Lindsey Pearlman

All photos by Heather Stumpf

 

 

   
   

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Wednesday Wordplay – Bette Davis and toilet mummies

Lots of intuitive quotes this week, including ones from Bette Davis, Victor Hugo, Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi.  And a funny quote from Edith Sitwell. Enjoy.


[Mostly] Inspirational Quotes

There are new words now that excuse everybody. Give me the good old days of heroes and villains. the people you can bravo or hiss. There was a truth to them that all the slick credulity of today cannot touch.
            — Bette Davis, The Lonely Life, 1962

I have often wished I had time to cultivate modesty… But I am too busy thinking about myself.
            — Edith Sitwell, As quoted in The Observer (30 April 1950)

Good habits result from resisting temptation.
            — Ancient Proverb

An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.
            — Elbert Hubbard

There is always more misery among the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher.
            — Victor Hugo, ‘Les Miserables,’ 1862

Joy is prayer – Joy is strength – Joy is love – Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.
            — Mother Teresa

You can’t turn back the clock. But you can wind it up again.
            — Bonnie Prudden

Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress.
            — Mahatma Gandhi

Don’t gamble; take all your savings and buy some good stock and hold it till it goes up, then sell it. If it don’t go up, don’t buy it.
            — Will Rogers

If I have learnt anything, it is that life forms no logical patterns. It is haphazard and full of beauties which I try to catch as they fly by, for who knows whether any of them will ever return?
            — Margot Fonteyn

It’s not your painting anymore. It stopped being your painting the moment that you finished it.
            — Jeff Melvoin, Northern Exposure, Fish Story, 1994

Real, constructive mental power lies in the creative thought that shapes your destiny, and your hour-by-hour mental conduct produces power for change in your life. Develop a train of thought on which to ride. The nobility of your life as well as your happiness depends upon the direction in which that train of thought is going.
            — Laurence J. Peter

It is a sadness of growing older that we lose our ardent appreciation of what is new and different and difficult.
            — Elizabeth Aston, The Exploits & Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy, 2005

Just because you are blind, and unable to see my beauty doesn’t mean it does not exist.
            — Margaret Cho, Margaret Cho’s weblog, 03-23-06

Consult your friend on all things, especially on those which respect yourself. His counsel may then be useful where your own self-love might impair your judgment.
            — Seneca

Never chase a lie. Let it alone, and it will run itself to death.
            — Lyman Beecher

Do not listen to those who weep and complain, for their disease is contagious.
            — Og Mandino

I feel good about taking things to Goodwill and actually, I do like shopping at Goodwill. It’s so cheap that it feels like a library where I am just checking things out for awhile until I decide to take them back.
            — April Foiles

Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.
            — Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks, 1965

We are rich only through what we give, and poor only through what we refuse.
            — Anne-Sophie Swetchine

Oh for a book and a shady nook…
            — John Wilson

The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.
            — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whenever evil befalls us, we ought to ask ourselves, after the first suffering, how we can turn it into good. So shall we take occasion, from one bitter root, to raise perhaps many flowers.
            — Leigh Hunt

I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people who are convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another.
            — Ellen Goodman

 


 

Urban Dictionary

 

Toilet Mummy

When someone is so concerned about toilet seat germs, they cover the seat with half a roll of toilet paper, leaving it to appear like it has been mummified.

"I was going to use that stall to drop a deuce, but somebody left it looking like a toilet mummy."

Recrap

To sum up a discussion composed largely of useless bullshit.

Person 1: "Tell me how the staff meeting went."
Person 2: "Allow me to recrap…"

Mary-Arrchie’s "Our Bad Magnet" extended thru Jan. 18th

Due to popular demand, Mary-Arrchie Theatre will be extending the Jeff Recommended US Premiere of Our Bad Magnet, by Douglas Maxwell, at Angel Island Theatre, 735 W. Sheridan .

Currently, the final dates for 2008 will be December 18th – 22nd. The extension, then, will begin January 2nd and run through January 18th, 2009.

Kevin V. Smith, John Wilson, Layne Manzer, Daniel Behrendt

L to R: Kevin V. Smith, John Wilson, Layne Manzer, Daniel Behrendt

Press accolades:

“well-cast American premiere…features some breathtaking moments…one of the most effective and surprising endings I’ve seen in a while…” – Chicago Tribune

“For anyone who wants to experience joy, sadness, and the potential to be moved to tears in their holiday theater-going experience, don’t miss Our Bad Magnet.” -Edge Chicago

“Maxwell’s play is rich, moving, funny and real, and well served by Carlo Lorenzo Garcia’s direction, which keeps the right balance of tension and humor. All four actors are excellent” -Centerstage Chicago (Must See Show)

Layne Manzer, Daniel Behrendt, John Wilson

L to R: Layne Manzer, Daniel Behrendt, John Wilson

More accolades:

“drama’s U.S. premiere is helped by Garcia’s note-perfect cast” -Time Out Chicago

“the amorphous ending is a thing of almost transcendental beauty, a surreal and unknowable benediction from some vast, benevolent god.” -Windy City Chicago

“This cliques with me” CheekyChicago.com

Visit the theatre company’s website for more info: www.maryarrchie.com/now.html

 

Daniel Behrendt, John Wilson, Layne Manzer

L to R: Daniel Behrendt, John Wilson, Layne Manzer