Review: Arnie the Doughnut (Lifeline Theatre)

  
  

A sweet indulgence of children’s theater

  
  

Mr. Bing (Anthony Kayer, center) and Arnie the doughnut (Brandon Paul Eells, right) plead with Mrs. Plute (Julia Merchant, left) to let Arnie stay at the Cozy Confines Condo Community; in Lifeline Theatre’s production of “Arnie the Doughnut,” adapted by Frances Limoncelli, music by George Howe, and directed by Elise Kauzlaric, based on the popular children’s book by Laurie Keller;  Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.

     
Lifeline Theatre presents
 
Arnie the Doughnut
 
Adapted by Frances Limoncelli
Based on book by Laurie Keller
Music/Lyrics by George Howe
Directed by Elise Kauzlaric
at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
through May 15  |  tickets: $12  | 
more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

The First Lady would maybe not approve of this delightful children’s musical due to the fact that the play’s hero is a talking fried fatty confectionary void of nutritional value. Nevertheless, Frances Limoncelli’s adaptation of Laurie Keller’s acclaimed children’s book, “Arnie the Doughnut is chock full of moral and whimsical value. Limoncelli’s adaptation is further enhanced by George Howe’s catchy doo-woppy music and lyrics complimented with doughnut hole background singers.

Mr. Bing (Anthony Kayer, right) and Arnie the doughnut (Brandon Paul Eells, left) negotiate a new relationship between man and doughnut; in Lifeline Theatre’s production of “Arnie the Doughnut,” adapted by Frances Limoncelli, music by George Howe, and directed by Elise Kauzlaric, based on the popular children’s book by Laurie Keller Photo by Suzanne Plunkett. The story begins on Arnie’s (Brandon Paul Eells) birthday. He was born earlier that morning in the fryer at the Downtown Bakery. Arnie is a chocolate frosted doughnut, with somewhere between one hundred and one million sprinkles. Proving to be quite philosophical for his young age, he wonders, “What’s my purpose?” He has a strong desire to be the “best doughnut he can be” doing whatever it is doughnuts were made for. Oh, poor naive Arnie doesn’t realize his fate.

He meets new friends vying to be chosen in the doughnut display case, Jelly (Julia Merchant), Powdered (u/s Jasmine Ryan charmingly played at the performance I attended; regularly portrayed by Audrey Flegal) and French Cruller (Abby E. Sammons). They break into the Howe’s most infectious number, “Sunshiny Goodness.”

Arnie is chosen from the display case by the routine obsessed Mr. Bing (Anthony Kayer). Mr. Bing has come to the bakery for his normal plain donuts, but in a fluke, they’ve run out. You know Mr. Bing: he’s the bachelor who pays every bill ten days early, is in bed by 9PM on weekends and still has all of his vacation days left at the end of the fiscal year. He finally takes a risk on a chocolate covered sprinkled doughnut. During the song “A Bumpy Ride”, Arnie rides in a giant paper bag alongside Mr. Bing. Scenic designer, Melania Lancy creates a fun doughnut car that looks more like a deep fried Segway. Arnie learns the hard reality of his true purpose in life when Bing takes his first bite. It’s all a fun adventure from there, trying to figure out what role Arnie can fill in Bing’s life. Julia Merchant is deliciously evil as Mr. Bing’s rule-loving condo president, Ms. Plute.

Lifeline excels in children’s theater, because they clearly treat it no differently than their main stage. The talent takes this play to the next level. Eells is expressive and genuine, not to mention a wonderful comedic actor in every sense. His vocal work is full of life and character. The interplay between him and Kayer bring some subtle comedic laughs for adults. The design is whimsically thrilling. Mean Mrs. Plute (Julia Merchant, left) informs Mr. Bing (Anthony Kayer, right) that the bylaws of their condo community demand that Arnie the doughnut must go by the end of the day; in Lifeline Theatre’s production of “Arnie the Doughnut,” adapted by Frances Limoncelli, music by George Howe, and directed by Elise Kauzlaric, based on the popular children’s book by Laurie Keller. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett. The colors in Lancy’s set are just as vibrant as Keller’s book. Also, Kat Doebler’s costumes allow for wonderfully fanciful transformations of characters. Joe Court’s sound design is the sprinkles on top, particularly one great gag implementing the Psycho sound effect.

In the end, the message of variance in life and companionship may lie a little over the head of the youngest of audiences. Also, do be warned that this play encourages breaking rules (which I found refreshing). I would probably recommend this play for slightly older children, or kids who love the “Arnie” book. A little like a doughnut, the story is light on sustenance and heavy on delight. It seems as though the adults in the audience were laughing constantly, while the children were slightly in awe.

What young audiences will receive, regardless of age, is a wonderful experience in the theatre. The intimacy of a production such as this, compared to a large commercial “Disney-fied” children’s show, provides for a much more magical and personal experience for kids. Just be prepared to shell out for Howe’s irresistible soundtrack on CD, resulting in sudden outbursts expressing the desire to be “More Than Just Delicious.”

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Arnie the doughnut (Brandon Paul Eells, right) meets his new doughnut-hole friends at the Downtown Bakery; in Lifeline Theatre’s production of “Arnie the Doughnut,” adapted by Frances Limoncelli, music by George Howe, and directed by Elise Kauzlaric, based on the popular children’s book by Laurie Keller. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.

Arnie the Doughnut continues at Lifeline Theatre through May 15th, with performances Saturdays at 1PM and Sundays at 11AM and 1PM. There are no performances Easter Sunday, April 24; or Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8. Running time is 55 min. with no intermission. Ticket prices are $12 and may be purchased at the Lifeline Theatre Box Office, 773.761.4477, or by visiting www.lifelinetheatre.com.

All photos by Suzanne Plunkett

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Review: Chicago Dramatists’ “Lucinda’s Bed”

Many Beds in Lucinda’s Life

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Chicago Dramatists present:

Lucinda’s Bed

By Mia McCullough
Directed by Jessi D. Hill
Thru November 8th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

The world premiere of Lucinda’s Bed by Mia McCullough is a dark tragic comedy that explores the anger in a girl who tries her whole life to be good, with no reward for her choices and no break from her relentless temptations. Confined by the expectations of others, Lucinda fights to identify herself and recognize her personal desires. She is constantly growing through her painful experiences and continuing to “sleep in the bed she made.” She questions the benefit of her choices and tiptoes on to the dirty lucindaportraitside of morality. As we travel through the different stages of Lucinda’s life we see the pain and conflicting emotions of a girl just trying to see if it is possible to do the right thing and be true to her self.

At nine years old, Lucinda (Elizabeth Laidlaw) is a pure child who has an innocent yet intimate friendship with a nice young boy Adam (Doug Mackechnie) who is kind, supportive and predictable. It is at this young age that the monster under Lucinda’s bed (Lucas Neff) introduces himself to her and her temptations begin. Throughout her life the monster visits Lucinda, challenging her automatic response to do the “right” thing and presents her with the possibility to follow her raw desires.

Mia McCullough tells an honest (even when exaggerated) portrayal of the horrifying hardships that a female may encounter while becoming a woman. Through the physical, emotional and mental conflicts that arise in Lucinda’s journey, McCullough tells a story about how much it takes out of a woman that constantly tries to love and please everyone. She shows the strength one gains from loving and caring for everyone around you, but also the toll that it takes on that person’s spirit.

Director Jessi D. Hill has smoothly strung together a long series of events covering a Lucinda’s lifetime. The quick transitions between scenes are creative, finding ways to enhance the sense of a time lapse. However, the overly consistent changes dragged on after a while even with the witty effects. Scenic designer Grant Sabin scatters outlandishly clever pieces through out the set, changing the room to exemplify the time in Lucinda’s life that each scene took place.

play3393 Lucinda lives through a painful sequence of events as she grows older, but the moments in between had me bent over laughing. Elizabeth Laidlaw connected with the audience, making Lucinda’s aging relatable. Laidlaw is sexually tantalizing on stage, as she spends a large portion of the show in her bra and panties.  But her ability to find the tragic depth in each moment she encounters, and cope with the hurdles in front of her with changing reactions due to her constantly evolving life experience, is what stands out in her performance.

Lucas Neff’s acting ability is put on display as he convincingly plays numerous characters. His charm effortlessly switches to immature goofiness, giving each character he plays a full range of personality. Meanwhile, Doug Mackechnie was at his best when playing an older Adam closer to his age. While over-embellishing his portrayal of Adam in his youth, he completely captured the innocence in his youthful character.

The Chicago Dramatists are hot right now – their world-premiere of Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain is currently running on Broadway, starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig -  and they continue to roll with Mia McCullough’s Lucinda’s Bed. This play provides deep insight into the weighty sorrow one feels after trying to live up expectations and move past its cruelty in the world before it sucks the life right out of us. Chicago Dramatists present what would be a dark drama with great humor and an overall entertaining experience. This tragedy is a comedic experience that will give you lots to talk about.

Rating: «««

 

Featuring: Associate Artist Doug MacKechnie, Elizabeth Laidlaw and Lucas Neff
Grant Sabin (Set Designer), Diane Fairchild (Lighting Designer) Nick Keenan (Sound Designer), Jenniffer Thusing (Props Designer and Stage Manager), and Kat Doebler (Costume Designer)