Review: BRAINPEOPLE (UrbanTheater Company)

  
  

Examining the relationship of magic, passion and faith

  
  

Brain People - Urban Theatre 6

   
UrbanTheater Company presents
  
BRAINPEOPLE
 
Written by José Rivera
Directed by
Marti Lyons
at
Batey Urbano, 2620 W. Division (map)
through Dec. 12  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Before the lights went down for “Brainpeople” at the UrbanTheater Company (UTC), co-artistic director Madrid St. Angelo told the audience that we were in for some delicious language. This is an authentic description of Jose Rivera’s language and UTC’s spellbinding production. Writer José Rivera is possibly best known as the Brain People - Urban Theatre 9 screenwriter for “The Motorcycle Diaries”. He is also renowned in the theater world as a torchbearer for the Magical Realism genre. From the moment I walked in to Batey Urbano, I could feel the vibe that I remember so fondly from my days in Puerto Rico and not so fondly what I call post Catholic Terror Syndrome.

The set is a carnival of crucifixion imagery, dark wood, and reds to reflect the fires and riots in a not too distant future Los Angeles. It is an unsettling mixture of the surreal and the sublime done to perfection by scenic designer Jorge Felix. There is a muscular image of Jesus tethered to a tree dying or resurrecting in religious ecstasy. Along side this is a grotesque post-mortem painted in icy shades of blue.

Marilyn Camacho plays the mysterious and enticing hostess named Mayannah who once a year invites two strangers to dine with her. Amanda Powell plays the role of Rosemary and Kate Brown is Ani. Ms. Powell gives a tour de force performance as a woman with disassociative identity disorder- or is it possible that she is a channel for more sinister motives? One moment she’s a tentative guest named Rosemary, then Rosalyn, then Rosie and the list continues impressively. Each of Ms. Powell’s characters is done to a perfect comic or terror inducing affect, providing a searing reality check to Rosemary’s flights of illusion.

Mayannah resides in a wealthy grotto of Los Angeles where everything is available with the right amount of money. Hers is a languid existence punctuated by sirens and threats of police violence on her social inferiors. In fact, one can presume that this is a riff on present day Los Angeles, where fantasy and reality are blurred for the world to purchase a ticket. Mayannah’s anniversary repast is offered with the promise of a cash reward if her guests make it to dessert.

Brain People - Urban Theatre 8Ani and Rosemary are willingly subjected to a night of transubstantiation and the mental stigmata of an abandoned child longing for what she calls her unbroken self. Mayannah believes that if the energy of the soul can be consumed, it can also be absorbed and reborn. This is no simple tale of reincarnation or anything that I ever learned in catechism classes. Rivera’s story turns long-held tenets and beliefs on their heads by revealing the underside of learning them. The darkest creases of the mind emerge when society breaks down to martial law and, finally, anarchy. The character of Ani is a portrayal of an individual named for the lost civilization of Armenia. Ani comes to dinner to get the payout and leave the country to find real love and forget that she has a ‘PhD. in all the shitty forms of love’. It is Ani’s character that makes the connection to Mayannah’s soul’s longing while Rosemary sits in a catatonic daze absorbing and healing from her own childhood terrors. All three actors play off of each other with a dizzying rhythm of wordplay balanced with smoking hot sensuality.

Rivera has written dark and acerbic wit for these women. The characters are refreshingly free of stereotypes and shallow characterizations.

The UTC production is the Chicago premiere of BRAINPEOPLE. It is that rare meeting of cast, direction, and location that produces a transporting experience. UTC was formed to bring cutting edge experiences to the theater through diversity and roots in the Latino community and they hit a bull’s eye with BRAINPEOPLE. UTC founders Ivan Vega, Madrid St. Angelo and Marilyn Camacho have something truly special to offer to the theater community of Chicago. Go see this show!

   
       
Rating: ★★★½
    
   

Brain People - Urban Theatre 7

This show has a short run from November 12th through December 12th at Batey Urbano 2620 W. Division in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. More information is available on UrbanTheater Company check out www.urbantheaterchicago.com or call 312-239-8783.

   
   

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REVIEW: Mid-life! The Crisis Musical (Metropolis Arts Centre)

Still in need of some ‘crisis’ management

 

Productions - Mid Life - 6

  
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
  
Mid-life! The Crisis Musical
 
By Bob Walton and Jim Walton
Directed by Robin M. Hughes
at MPAC, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights (map)
Through June 19 | Tickets: $35-$43 |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Hot flashes, varicose veins, dimming vision, escaping memories, philandering husbands … these are the subjects of Mid-life! The Crisis Musical, currently at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. The opening number offers a laundry list of the pains of the 40s and 50s … and the rest of this overlong show, like middle age itself, goes downhill from there.

Productions - Mid Life - 2 Less a musical than a revue, the show quickly becomes repetitive, with the litany of the first song expanded in a series of thematic songs and skits. The humor expends itself rapidly — these are all jokes we’ve heard before. (And much of the opening-day audience at Metropolis not only lived through them but also at least a decade or two beyond.)

The funniest number, "What Did I Come In Here For?" comically details the problems of short-term memory loss. A mid-life translator interprets the frustrations of aging husbands ("I want to sleep with other women") to their weepy, menopausal wives and vice versa. "He Got What He Deserves" (a low-budget version of "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago) suggests that two-timing, middle-aged lotharios get their just rewards, a sadly untrue contention.

Some of the bits are just plain dumb, like one about a singing mammogram. "The Long Goodbye," a song about the difficulties of caring for elderly parents in senile dementia had the potential to be poignant, but the writers went for cheap laughs instead.

The cast, portraying six nameless middle-aged characters, carries through well, with good timing and fine moves, yet they can’t add much to such lightweight material. Dennis Brown‘s cockney accent seemed a bit distracting, though, and the women — Kate Brown, Elizabeth Haley and Katie Miller — all appear too young for the roles they’re supposed to be playing. Costume Designer Cathy Tantillo apparently tried to address this by putting them in frumpy knee-length khaki skirts with unattractive hem-line borders and maroon tops that emphasize bulges.

Scott Alan Emerick, 41, looks a bit on the youthful side, too, especially in a "Weekend Warriers" skit that portrays him as being the same age as the older men. Haley and David Elliott bring notable voices to their performances, but the music – peppy and uncomplicated – doesn’t give them much scope. (Hear samples on the website.)

Productions - Mid Life - 5 Robin M. Hughes uses a rear-stage video screen to introduce each number in a singularly uncreative use of high tech. The videos, mostly ugly, do nothing that wouldn’t have been more effective in live sequences … even an actor just carrying a sign across the stage.

Michael Gehmlich and Adam Veness have constructed an interesting multilevel staircase set, with two proscenium arches studded with 156 lights. It’s a pity that Christie Kerr’s uninspired choreography doesn’t make better use of it.

Getting old may be no joke, but Mid-life! The Crisis Musical won’t do much to lift your spirits.

   
   
Rating: ★★
  
  

Productions - Mid Life - 4

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