Review: Ephemera (Polarity Ensemble Theatre)

  
  

The last lost in space cadets

  
  

Kaelan Strouse and Kim Boler - Ephemera

  
Polarity Ensemble Theatre presents
  
Ephemera
  
Written by Bryce Wissel
Directed by Laura Sturm
at Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell (map)
through May 1  |  tickets: $19  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

You have to hand it to Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s latest production, a daffy space opera called Ephemera. It wings its charming way through its almost stream-of-consciousness universe while, at the same time, interjecting notes of wisdom and flashes of sobering reality. Not so sobering that it subverts its comic balance—playwright Bryce Wissel challenges his characters but never allows them to sink into maudlin self-pity or self-absorption. Directed by Laura Sturm, Ephemera does that delicate dance of riffing on well-worn and outlandish tropes from sci-fi, creates a few new ones on its own, while nodding to the obvious drawbacks of a life suspended in space. The crew of orbital space station Ephemera shows all the wear and tear of living the most ungrounded of existences but that hardly keeps them from playing out all their individual idiosyncrasies, even to the living end.

Kim Boler and Jonas Gray - EphemeraPresented in “installments” by greeter Androids 1 and 2 (Hilary Holbrook and Sarah Grant), the story begins with Ephemera’s crew discovering a talking monkey trapped in its airlock. The monkey, Davy (played with superb body language by Charley Jordan) was the original test monkey sent into space during NASA’s early exploration days. Perhaps–and only perhaps–decades of exposure to interstellar radiation have speeded his evolution to the point where he can hold affable conversation, jovially drink down the station’s alcohol and hit on Colonel Kate McBride (Kim Boler). True to sci-fi/action thriller formula, Kate’s the only female on board–so, of course, Davy’s not Kate’s only suitor. Manuel (Kaelan Strouse), an android who was probably weaned on Telemundo programming, exerts all his exuberant Latin charm to woo her–not to mention showboat the audience.

As hotly pursued as Kate is, it’s through her we discover the darker aspects of Ephemera’s nut-house environment—they have been on board, orbiting Earth, for who knows how long or for what purpose. There’s been no communication from Earth and they all have no memory of any time before they were there. “I don’t even know if we came here willingly,” she plaintively tells Davy. It quickly becomes clear that the crew’s behavior reflects the time-wasting, random goofiness of people without direction or relief from meaningless routine. “Everyone I know has heard all of my jokes,” complains Colonel James Bowie (Jonas Grey). The only one having fun with his role seems to be Commander William B. Travis (played with absurdist brilliance by Bob Wilson) and mostly because his role on the station seems to have been fabricated out of thin air.

      
     Kim Boler, Jonas Grey, Charley Jordan, Kaelan Strouse, Bob Wilson, Sarah Grant and Hilary Holbrook - Ephemera Charles Jordan and Kim Boler - Ephemera
Jonas Grey, Kaelan Strouse, Kim Boler, Charles Jordan - Ephemera Kaelan Strouse in 'Ephemera'

Even the comedy’s non-linear story structure, replete with dropped-in asides from the characters, instills repetitive and nonsensical time loops in the action. Wissel’s comedy matches the flukiness of Douglas Adams’ or even Tom Robbins’ novels. At the heart of its highly randomized exposition is a workplace comedy, where work is very definitely not the issue but getting along with the quirks of one’s co-workers is. For the most part, the non-linear storytelling is very successful—only in the second act does it begin to wear itself out as a MacGuffin. However, Sturm’s cast is spot-on in pace, timing and delivery—a factor made all the more exacting by the production’s technical elements. Plus, artist lewis lains’ set design and further art installations create a great space for the cast’s gentle and gracious finale that brings the show home clean, clear and truthful. If a little more editing could be employed, Ephemera just might takes its place in the stars among its illustrious space comedy forebears.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Jonas Gray, Charles Jordan, Kim Bolder

Ephemera continues through May 1st at Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $19, and can be purchased online. More info at www.pettheatre.com.

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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: Peter Pan (Theatre-Hikes)

 

A fun time for all in Never Never Land

 

 Peter and Hook Fight A

   
Theatre-Hikes presents
   
Peter Pan
   
Written by J.M Barrie
Directed by
Lavina Jadhwani
at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL  (map)
through August 29th  |  tickets: $8-$19  |  more info

reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Wandering through the paths of the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL, a boy suddenly emerges from behind the trees, crowing and dancing around with his shadow. A proper young girl sits with her brothers as they listen to their mother’s stories. Pirates run through the grass in search of the boy who can fly. Produced by Theatre-Hikes, this outdoor production of Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, the beloved children’s story by J.M. Barrie, takes the notion of Never Never Land to a new level.

The DarlingsPeter Pan opens on the Darling family. Mr. and Mrs. Darling are getting ready for a night out while the family dog, Nana takes care of the children, Wendy, Michael and John. After the children are fast asleep, Peter Pan enters their room to retrieve his lost shadow. Waking Wendy with his crying, she sews Peter’s shadow back on for him and in return he teaches the Darling children to fly.

The arboretum provides a stellar background for Peter Pan. After starting in the pavilion transformed into the Darling house, the audience literally travels with Peter past the second star to the right and straight on to Never Never Land. While walking from scene to scene, the audience becomes involved in the production, creating additional atmosphere and heightening the magic that’s occurring. All the arboretum’s a stage – a stage to be used at the actors’ disposal as Peter flits and flies around, the lost boys rally and Wendy puts them all to bed under the sky.

With such a huge performance space, the acting must really stand out, and for the most part it does. Peter Pan (Kaelan Strouse) is youthful, vibrant and full of energy. The moment Strouse enters, his child-like enthusiasm becomes infectious, connecting him to both his fellow actors and the audience. Although Strouse takes his acting a bit too over-the-top at times, he has a clear sense of character and knows exactly who Peter is.

Back in Never Never Land, Peter introduces Wendy to the lost boys and she becomes their honorary mother. Wendy (Allison Schaffer) is adorably naïve and Schaffer’s potrayal of a little girl trying to mother unruly little boys is quality work. She could take her characterization farther at a few points, but overall she’s strong in her conflict between missing her parents and leaving Peter. Kylie Edmonds stands out as Slightly, one of the lost boys. Her performance feels genuine and it’s clear she has put in the effort to figure out her character’s back story, allowing Edmonds to step out at a higher level than the rest of the group. The cast is rounded out by Ellenkate Finley as Tootles and Anne Sears as Curly.

Lost Boys, Smee and Hook

It’s not all fun and games in Never Never Land with pirates prowling about. Captain Hook (Andrew Pond) is Peter Pan’s rival, and has made it his mission to capture and kill the boy. Pond’s portrayal of Hook is more jovial than it is menacing. And while this is children’s theatre and Hook can’t be overly scary, there’s not enough differentiation between his character as Hook and his character as Mr. Darling. (Traditionally, the same actor is cast in both roles). Because of this, Hook isn’t as believable as other characters. Pond does, however, have a way with a sword, and the fight choreography by Dwight Sora following Hook’s capture of Wendy and the lost boys is thrilling to watch.

Hook’s first mate Smee (Zach Bloomfield) successfully offers well-timed comic relief. Playing both the parts of Smee and Nana, Bloomfield hilariously delivers his lines (even the ones he barked) and keeps the tone light and the audience entertained.

For all that’s good about this show, the costuming by Sarah Haley lacks. The choices are understandable and suit the characters, but some garments look more like homemade Halloween costumes than costumes for a professional theatre production.

Overall, the actors do well against the many opposing elements created by an outdoor space. Fighting the rain and bugs, they adapt to a full pavilion staging, they speak up and enunciate against a strong breeze and they play off the smaller children in the audience who yell things out during the performance. Because there’s no backstage, Peter Pan becomes interactive at points, allowing the kids in the audience to get a special experience by letting them speak and play with the actors during scene changes. Peter Pan is a fun show for people of any age with its lively energy that flows well, and the two to two-and-a-half hours of performance fly by as fast as Peter Pan himself. (FYI: Don’t forget your bug spray!)

 

  
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

The Morton Arboretum is located at 4100 Lincoln Ave., Lisle IL and Theatre Hikes begins at the Thornhill Center on the west side of the arboretum. Peter Pan runs Saturday and Sunday through August 29 at 1:00 pm. Tickets are $12 (arboretum members) or $19 (non-members) adults, and $8 (members) $13 (non-members) for children. Note: Sunday shows are low-impact hikes designed for strollers and/or wheelchairs, with the hike going less than one mile.  (FYI: Don’t forget your bug spray!)

Peter and Audience

 

 

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REVIEW: Doctor’s Dilemma (ShawChicago)

A timeless treatise on today’s healthcare debate?

 

doctors-dilemma

 
ShawChicago presents
 
Doctor’s Dilemma
 
Written by George Bernard Shaw
directed by Robert Scogin
DCA Studio Theatre, 78 E. Washington (map)
thru May 10th  |  tickets: $10-$22  | more info 

By Katy Walsh

Who to save? If allotted only enough serum to cure one patient, how to choose who is worthy of it? ShawChicago, in conjunction with DCA Studio Theatre in the Cultural Center, presents Doctor’s Dilemma. Illustrating a lifelong disdain for the healing profession, George Bernard Shaw pens a comedy about doctors debating the sanctity of healthcare for a price. Under the enchantment of a pretty lady, four doctors struggle with the decision to save her charming husband or their bumbling colleague.

shawportrait Although Shaw first produced the play in 1906, his viewpoints are still prevalent one hundred years later. Economics still influences healthcare in adequate coverage for the poor and research interests of the wealthy. Doctor’s Dilemma illustrates the timeless issues of healthcare and arrogant doctors; ShawChicago injects a talented cast. The result is a robust tonic sure to cure any ailment.

In the ShawChicago tradition, the show is a public reading. No costumes. No scenery. It’s just Shaw, Scogin and the ensemble. Under the direction of Robert Scogin, the entire cast adds their own version of razzle-dazzle. The doctors are a variety of superior condescension. Jack Hickey (Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington) is hilarious as the know-it-all physician with one basic prescription, “stimulate the phagocytes.” Hickey is riotous rambling his lunatic theories then stopping abruptly to utter “I’ve lost the thread of my conversation.” Will Clinger (Cutler Walpole) is in turn outrageous with his repeated diagnosis of ‘blood poisoning’ and his declaration that he is, “not a doctor. I’m a surgeon.” Skip Lundby (Sir Patrick Cullen) is the delightful retired doctor who starts an argument with, “when you’ve killed as many people as I have…” Matt Pen (Sir Colenso Ridgeon) is the smug bachelor with the God complex. The patient is Christian Gray (Louis Dubedat). Gray is the fast-talking scoundrel and the arrogant match for the doctors. In his immorality justification, Gray argues that lawyers threaten prison, parsons threaten damnation and doctors threaten death. Gray is deliciously unapologetic for his rogue ways. Barbara Zahora (Jennifer Dubedat) is the loyal wife and object of the doctors’ affections as she pleads for healthcare for her husband. In smaller roles but with superior accents, Mary Michell (Emmy) and Kaelan Strouse (Newspaper Man/Mr. Darby) are outstanding.

Sixteen years ago, ShawChicago started its artistic initiative with Doctor’s Dilemma in the DCA Studio Theatre in the Cultural Center. Back then, it was Clinton and healthcare. Now, it’s Obama and healthcare. But then and now and since 1906, Doctor’s Dilemma is a Shaw timeless classic.

 
 
Rating: ★★★
 
 

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

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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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