REVIEW: Carmilla (WildClaw Theatre)

  
  

WildClaw starts the year with fang-tastic Gothic treat

  
  

WildClaw Theatre presents 'Carmilla' at DCA Storefront Theatre

  
WildClaw Theatre presents
  
Carmilla
  
Written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Adapted by
Alyrenee Amidei
Directed by
Scott Cummins
at
DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph (map)
through Feb 20  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Purist fans of J. Sheridan LeFanu might curl their toes in horror over the liberties taken with his novella “Carmilla in WildClaw Theatre’s latest action-packed production, now onstage at the DCA Storefront Theater. But then, not knowing any LeFanu purists, just revel in this adaptation’s delightful mix of classic gothic style, self-conscious and knowing humor, insightful take on relationships, energetically executed fight scenes (Scott Cummins and David Chrzanowski) and–oh yes–lesbian vampires.

In our Buffy-Twilight-True-Blood saturated culture, you’ve seen vampires, you’ve seen lesbians, you’ve seen lesbian vampires–that’s entertainment. But WildClaw’s production, under Scott Cummins’ direction, cunningly returns audiences to the original dangers of women loving women, plus the wild danger inherent in giving oneself over to love, period.

WildClaw Theatre presents 'Carmilla' at DCA Storefront TheatreYoung Laura (Brittany Burch) is on the cusp of womanhood, passing her days at her father’s (Charley Sherman) rural schloss with only her governesses Madame Perrodon (Mandy Walsh) and Mademoiselle LaFontaine (Moira Begale-Smith) for feminine company. Amusing as the older women are, Laura craves a companion for which to socialize. The visiting and slightly amorous General Spielsdorf (Brian Amidei) has a ward, Bertha (Sara Gorsky), who just might fill the bill. However, word of her sinking into a mysterious illness cancels any chance of Laura making her acquaintance and draws the General away to see to his ward’s care. Laura faces her disappointment stoically, as well as the teasing Perrodon and LaFontaine give her on being a prospective match for the General. Living where they are, few options exist from which to choose a mate who could appeal to Laura romantically. She accepts that any marriage might have to be sensibly arranged for her future security more than anything.

During a family outing in the moonlight, a carriage careens by and almost crashes—three strangers emerge from the accident, a veiled woman, a younger woman who has collapsed and a servant in an eye patch. The veiled woman (Erin Myers) seems mysteriously familiar to Laura’s father but she refuses to reveal her identity. She only discloses that she must hurry on to take care of business critical to their family’s welfare, but doesn’t dare to take her weak daughter any further on the journey. Laura’s father offers to take the girl in for the three months the woman requires to secure their future. So it is that Laura becomes friends with the strange and fascinating Carmilla (Michaela Petro), who has seen Laura’s face in a dream, just as Laura has seen hers in a similar dream.

Cummins’ direction strikes a steady and creative balance between building eerie tension and swinging into bursts of action that enliven the storyline and push the plot forward. Beyond the excitement of fight scenes, the play’s interjection of gypsies, either at play or at mourning, work to disrupt the close, fever/dream relationship between Carmilla and Laura, as well as suffuse the play’s atmosphere with foreboding, unrelenting superstition. Superstition is gospel among this play’s lower orders, but its upper class characters are never far from its infecting influence. Dr. Hesselius (Steve Herson) seems at times as helpless as any medieval physician—resorting to bloodletting as part of Laura’s “cure” when she falls under the same wasting illness that takes Bertha’s life.

But more to the point, Burch and Petro successfully capture the delicate sensuality that was an intricate part of 19th century genteel women’s relationships. Even before Carmilla begins to put the moves on Laura, their relationship wobbles along a fine line between friends and lovers. Carmilla may have seduced others, but she invests earnest passion more in the chase than in the conquest. As for Burch, she skillfully renders Laura with all the befuddlement of a young woman who, besides not knowing about the birds and the bees, simply cannot know or imagine the emotional impact overwhelming love can have. Carmilla dominates Laura from the possession of greater knowledge and experience and maintaining the mystery about her.

     
WildClaw Theatre presents 'Carmilla' at DCA Storefront Theatre WildClaw Theatre presents 'Carmilla' at DCA Storefront Theatre
WildClaw Theatre presents 'Carmilla' at DCA Storefront Theatre WildClaw Theatre presents 'Carmilla' at DCA Storefront Theatre

Aly Amidei’s script has taken the best of LeFanu’s poetic text and interwoven it with a clearer feminist impulse. Carmilla comes across as more of an intellectual in this play than she does in LeFanu’s novella. Carmilla’s story also benefits from Amidei integrating 19th century beliefs about suicide leading to vampirism and the dead needing to be staked down so that they do not rise and prey upon the living. The men who come after Carmilla, the General and the Ranger (Josh Zagoren), strike the exact note of righteous masculinity prevailing against the disorder of a feminine fiend. Going after vampires is not without its humorous moments, though, and these are well played by Herson and Sherman.

Having so much going for it, it’s disappointing when instances of amateurism plague the show. There were times I simply loved Bertha (Sara Gorsky), Carmilla’s earlier prey-turned-vampire, prowling the countryside like a feral beast, only to watch her animality go over the top in other scenes. Carmilla’s occult powers over Henri (Scott T. Barsotti), her competition for Laura’s affections, also strained credibility and made his departure to go hang himself more laughable than convincing.

All in all, though, Wildclaw shows real dedication to intelligent horror entertainment. Audiences won’t be fed the same old vamps but something that evokes the rich subtly of women in close personal relationships. They will also find Charlie Athanas’ special effects and the sound design of Mikhail Fiksel and Scott Tallarida well paired with LeFanu’s language, rounding out Carmilla as a good, solid gothic treat.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

WildClaw Theatre presents 'Carmilla' at DCA Storefront Theatre

 

     
     

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REVIEW: The Regulars (Hobo Junction Productions)

More regular than epic

 

Regulars_Complete_Cast

 
Hobo Junction Productions presents
 
The Regulars
 
Written and directed by Josh Zagoren
at
Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through June 13th  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

The Regulars, an epic rock musical comedy about waiters is a new rock musical-comedy about, well, waiters, presented by Hobo Junction Productions. The audience is presented with the following warning tucked neatly inside their programs, "Caution: This production is meant to strictly Regulars_Hank_Molly make you laugh. We are not trying to make a comment on the human condition. We do comedies…and that’s what they are meant to do… make you laugh." What follows is an hour and fifteen minute dissertation on the human condition. Love, sex, violence and work are major themes in The Regulars, and although it is a musical farce, it is certainly a comment on life as a working, single white person in present day America.

The Regulars opens on a motley crew of waiters in the break room of a chain steakhouse. They spit venom at one another, and meet the new girl Molly (Danelle Wildermuth), who the women hate but the men amorously adore.  With their tough-as-nails demeanor and utter contempt for their job, the crew tries to prepare Molly for the hellish work night she has ahead of her. But nothing can prepare her for the mini-Vietnam that is dinner service at Laconia Steakhouse. The waiters come to the break room with increasingly stained and tattered clothes, and everything that can go wrong does; they run out of sugar and ketchup and secret shoppers from corporate show up.

With paper-thin characters and less-than earth-shattering plot points, writer/director Josh Zagoren has created a show that has no choice but to have absolutely hilarious scenes and dialogue. Unfortunately, The Regulars falls flat. While there are funny moments, Zagoren doesn’t push the envelope far enough. The audience is teased with the promise of a kinky new girl/stock boy love affair, but is given little more than a double entendre about a long rubber hose. You don’t need raunch for comedy, but if a writer puts something dirty or subversive out there, Chicago audiences are sophisticated enough to want to see it pay off. Comedy is in no short supply here in Chicago, which means, if a show claims to exist for the sole purpose of being funny, it had better be really, really funny, which unfortunately The Regulars is not.

     
Regulars_Molly_Anthony Regulars_Simon_Molly_Autumn

There are of course, amusing elements within the production. The funniest character is the sleazy newly-promoted headwaiter Simon, played by the subtly weird and awesome Bryan Campbell. Campbell plays the part with a bizarre innocence, making Simon’s cheesy moves easy to watch. Campbell also has one of the funnier songs, a 1950’s-style rock ode to a mediocre bar the crew goes to after work, “The Billy Bar.” Campbell, like the rest of the cast has a strong singing voice, stronger than the voices you’ll hear in a traditional comedy show in Chicago. Clara Kessler as Denise, the militaristic manager has the strongest voice in the cast, and a nice levity in her performance.

Sadly, levity isn’t enough to hang one’s hat on, despite The Regulars being a competently structured farce, with fun music and gifted actors. And Josh Zagoren is a talented writer and director – way too talented to write a show off as being comedy for comedy’s sake. Every successful comedy is a comment on the human condition, whether it admits it or not. There is a lot of rage underlying this piece about low-income workers in an overbearing job, and if Zagoren trusted himself enough to nurture that a little more, this could be a really funny play. Unfortunately, comedy for comedy’s sake doesn’t stand a chance of being more than cute, and in this town, just being cute doesn’t cut it.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Run time is approximately one hour with no intermission.

WHERE: Apollo Theater * 2540 North Lincoln Avenue.  Running Dates: May 7th thru June 13th – Fri. and Sat. @ 8:00 p.m & Sun @ 3:00 pm. Tickets: $15.00 – Call (773) 935-6100 or Purchase online at www.ticketmaster.com


Regulars_Anthony_Autumn CAST: Jake Autizen as Bear, Eli Branson as Anthony, Madeline Chilese as Autumn, Derek Elstro as Hank, Danelle Wildermuth as Molly, Ashley Wint as Sunny, Carla Kessler as Denise, Bryan Campbell as Simon, Cyra K. Polizzi as Ana the Bus Girl

CREW:
Playwright – Josh Zagoren
Music by – Josh Zagoren & Dan Krall
Music Orchestrated by – Joe Griffin & Mike Przygoda
Director – Josh Zagoren
Stage Manager – Amy Hopkins
Tech Director – Amy Hopkins
Costume Designer – Janna Weddle
Set Designer – Amy Hopkins
Lighting Designer – Amy Hopkins

 

     
    

REVIEW: Legion (Wildclaw Theatre)

 

Spooky special-effects; original music accent this horror-fest

 
 
Wildclaw Theatre presents:
 
Legion
 
adapted by Charley Sherman
directed by
Anne Adams
at
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave.
through April 18th
(more info)

Reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

The story of Legion, the sequel to “The Exorcist”, has taken many forms: first as a 1983 novel by William Peter Blatty, then as a film (The Exorcist III) and now it is a play, adapted by Wildclaw’s Artistic Director Charley Sherman, and presented by WildClaw Theatre.

WildClaw’s favored subject matter is the frightening and supernatural. When horror is done right it’s one of the most fun and satisfying types of show to see – the audience feels like a unified place when everyone is afraid of the same boogeyman.  The boogeyman here is two-fold. The string of murders that start Legion off match the M.O. of the Gemini Killer, who was supposed to have been killed twelve years before the start of the play. And of course being the Exorcist sequel, it must feature the worst villain in the history of literature: Satan. So what exactly is going on? Who is committing the murders? I’ll never tell…

Legion takes it’s name from a biblical quote that Blatty uses at the beginning of the novel The Exorcist: “Now when [Jesus] stepped ashore, there met him a certain man who for a long time was possessed by a devil … And Jesus asked him, saying, ‘What is thy name?’ and he said, Legion … “ Given the references to Mafia murders, the Vietnam war and the Holocaust that Blatty references after, it makes one wonder what exactly this Legion is. Is it’s the darkness and rage of humanity that makes this Satanic literary duo so terrifying? It’s not simply the devil. In contemporary society of different beliefs, cultures and mindsets, a biblical tale of demonic possession is not enough to strike fear into a universal audience. But you don’t have to believe in the Christian bible to think Legion is scary.

The main character, Lt. Kinderman is Jewish. His consistent references to kibitzes and Matzo are enough to make one a Meshugina, but the incorporating of a religion other than Christianity reminds the audience that this is a story about man, not God. Len Bajenski’s very endearing yet, (there is no other way to say this) Colombo-esque performance as the detective is more familiar than derivative and is a nice counter-balance to the heavy, daunting subject matter.

LEGION_strip

Despite it’s serious side, Legion never forgets to be entertaining, especially with the over the top special effects skillfully done by Fraser Coffeen. The audience gets to witness the horrific crime scenes with Lt. Kinderman, bodies and all. Of course, the gore does not look real but there is a fun, campy theatricality to the poor victims in Mr. Blatty’s dark tale.

The adaptation takes great care to loyally mirror the book on stage, which can lead to information overload. Trying to cram the density of a novel into a two-act play is too much: too many characters, too many ideas, and too many subplots. Didactic speeches about the existence of God and the nature of man can be cut down substantially. The large cast still relies on double and triple casting of almost all of the actors, and the effect is confusing and overwhelming. Legion soars when it distances itself from the novel and finds its strength as an independent play. The best example of this is a comedia del arte inspired flashback to the childhood of the Gemini killer that is startling and extremely engaging.

The glue that holds this entire production together is the fantastic original music by Scott Tallarida. The screeching strings are reminiscent of the score from the movie Psycho. The music is both terrorizing and humorous, to a very entertaining end.

Director Anne Adams has made a creepy play. Her instincts about when to be campy and when to be down to earth are dead on. The staging of some of the larger group scenes are usually clean and precise, although some staging drifts into clutterdom. Not to give anything away, but Cheryl Roy is fantastically creepy in the ensemble and Scott T. Barsotti gives a performance that will make one jump in one’s seat – perhaps to one’s embarrassment.

Legion is a play that lives in the dark and the light: it’s political and scary and light and cinematic all at the same time. It’s unafraid to push the limits of on-stage horror to the maximum. While not a perfect production, this play hits all the right marks for a fun night out.

 
Rating: ★★½
 

 

   

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Review: Hobo Junction’s “Horrible”

 

“Horrible” Haunted by Shoddy Script

 

Hobo Junction presents:

Horrible

by Josh Zagoren
directed by Breahan Eve Pautsch
thru December 19th (tickets: 773-935-6100)

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

Terrible-poster Either the criteria of what constitutes a dark comedy expanded and no one bothered to tell us, or Hobo Junction Productions is misinformed. The theater company’s recent aptly named piece Horrible is being touted as a macabre comedy, but really the scariest element of the production is the script (written by ensemble member Josh Zagoren), which has more holes in it than a victim of an icepick attack.

This isn’t to say the play lacks ghoulish elements. It features quaint depictions of cannibalism, ghostly hauntings and murder. But it lacks the two most critical elements of a dark comedy: cynicism and comedy. In fact, by the end of the play, you will feel as if you just watched an adaptation of a Hallmark card illustrated by Edward Gorey. Sure it might elicit a chuckle, but really it’s just trite, hokey material that scratches the shallowest surface of the human condition.

The play focuses on two families, the Garrishes and the Goodlys, both of whom begin with a dead parent and a dying parent. Malcolm Garrish (Mike Tepeli) is a workaholic doctor. His transvestite brother (Kaelan Strouse) is his assistant, and both are haunted by their father (Elliott Fredland) who is awaiting the death of the Garrish matriarch (Judi Schindler).

Meanwhile, on the other side of town—or the stage rather—lives Holly Goodly (Madeline Chilese), a poor young woman who does anything she can to support herself and her blind sister (Cyra K. Polizzi), even if that means feasting on human flesh to ward off starvation. The Goodly sisters are haunted by their mother (Tara Generalovich) who is awaiting the death of her drunkard husband (Bob Pries).

 

Horrible-Madeline-Chilese horrible-Mike-Tepeli

Soon into the play, the sickly elders from both families kick the bucket, and the lifelines of Malcolm and Holly collide at the town cemetery. Of course, they immediately fall for each other and a courtship begins. Meanwhile, their respective parents, having nothing better to do, pester them about their love lives from beyond the grave. As Malcolm and Holly carry on, the question of how she will hide her horrible secret looms.

There is also a narrator (Keith Redmond), onstage musical accompanists and news of a serial killer about town, a plot point that not only makes the production an overstuffed mess, but also derails the play into eye-rolling territory by the end.

Simply put, the biggest weakness of this play is its script. The story feels very much like a first draft and can benefit greatly from some additional table reads and multiple rewrites. For example, superfluous characters abound, such as Holly’s blind sister and Malcolm’s transvestite brother, who served no real purpose and received minimal characterization. (Blindness and transvestitism is about as deep as it gets.)

Characterization was also nonexistent for the protagonists. Malcolm and Holly’s love feels contrived and cliché, something we’ve seen countless times before in any teenage romantic comedy. There is also no effort to make either multi-dimensional. One’s a workaholic and one’s a cannibal, but there really isn’t a whole lot else to go on. The parental ghosts add a little comic fancy, but they could have been a riot if they weren’t written as North Shore cardboard cutouts.

Horrible-Mike-Tepeli-Madaline-Chilese The jokes are reminiscent of a bad Henny Youngman routine, with one-liners and puns comprising the majority of what is supposed to be the comedy. Whereas the dialogue could inform character or plot, it just sits there as a cheap laugh that stops the action of the play. There should have been more focus on building comedic situations, but then again that would have required creating well-rounded characters to create situations around.

There are some nice things to say about Horrible. For one, the musical accompaniment (composed by company member Dan Pearce), is entertaining and does more to set the tone than any part of the actual play. With only a guitar and a baritone sax, the two musicians create gritty tunes, evoking the spirit of Tom Waits. In addition, Strouse as the transvestite brother stole many scenes, not because he was donning a dress, but because his inflection and facial expressions breathed much life into an otherwise figuratively dead character.

At best, Horrible is a half-baked play that was prematurely produced before the writer could fix the script’s shortcomings. At its worst, it’s a frightening example of a directionless piece whose banality will haunt you.

Rating: ★½

 

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Review: Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather (Commedia Beauregard)

Rich Traub and Jovan King, Corleone, in Commedia Beauregard Theatre's "Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather", written by David Mann, directed by Christopher O. Kidder. (photo credit: Jennifer Marcias)        
       
Corleone:
  The Shakespearean Godfather

Written by David Mann  
Directed by Christopher O. Kidder 
at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
thru July 8   |  tickets: $25   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
        Read entire review
     

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