REVIEW: It’s a Wonderful Life: the Radio Play (ATC)

  
  

A Christmas window to an American past

  
  

Chrisopher McLinden, MaryWinn Heider - Its A Wonderful Life Radio Play - ATC Chicago

  
American Theater Company presents
  
It’s a Wonderful Life: the Radio Play
  
Adapted by Joe Landry
Directed by
Jason W. Gerace
at
American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron (map)
through Dec 26  | 
tickets: $35-$40  |  more info 

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

There is something warm and centering about American Theater Company’s perennial holiday offering, It’s a Wonderful Life: the Radio Play. Tom Burch’s scenic design, a variety of warm wood tones set with holiday greenery, grounds the production in its vision of a solid, comforting past. Likewise, Katherine Stebbins’ late 40’s period costumes render a satisfying illusion of our parents or grandparents in their heyday—the ladies’ perfect period hair and makeup set off with bold poinsettia corsages; the men in period suits and sweaters, sporting red and white carnation buttonholers. Just sitting in the cast’s presence can feel as reassuring as Dad’s hand on your shoulder or Mom asking how your day went.

Joseph Anthony Foronda and Alan Wilder - Its A Wonderful Life Radio Play - ATC ChicagoDirected by Jason W. Gerace, one can slip as easily into the performance as into an old pair of slippers and that might be part of the problem. ATC’s cast has a lot of comfort to give and their meticulous, professional execution of an American classic unquestionably impresses. However, the production also has the tendency to oversell its stabilizing comfort and forget the dramatic verve that drove Frank Capra’s original creation. Thankfully, there are some things here that are even better than Capra’s iconic movie: Christopher McLinden and Mary Winn Heider produce much stronger romantic chemistry between George Bailey and Mary Hatch than Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed did; somehow the confrontation scenes between George and Mr. Potter (Alan Wilder) more potently expose Potter’s amoral duplicity.

But for the most part, the cast could kick up the energy just a notch. Most take on multiple roles and sometimes character distinctiveness gets lost in the mishmash–Frank Capra’s direction excelled in making each character’s personality stand out uniquely. Of course, there are notable exceptions. Steppenwolf stalwart Alan Wilder practically channels the ghost of Lionel Barrymore with his dead-on imitation of Mr. Potter. Joseph Anthony Foronda backs up the production solidly with his portrayals of George’s father, Uncle Billy and Joseph.

But the production offers something more than just a nostalgic replay of Frank Capra’s iconic film; it offers a communal reminder of the way we were—and might still be—at the height of historic uncertainty over what America is or where we are going. The dialogue still delivers the best critique of capitalism in the American dramatic canon. As a humorous anachronistic touch, though, Chris Amos entertainingly plugs neighborhood businesses. Just as in the old days the advertising is interspersed throughout the story. Promoting businesses that sell vegan treats certainly brings us back to the present—it is, after all, about paying the bills.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

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REVIEW: Lucid (Diamante Productions)

The surreal world of “Lucid”

 Lucid cubicles

Diamante Productions presents:

Lucid

by Tony Fiorentino
directed by
Braden LuBell
thru February 27th –
Athenaeum Theatre (more info)

Review by K.D. Hopkins

The play Lucid is supposed to be about the mystery and excitement of what is called lucid dreaming. This is a somewhat controversial technique parlayed by New Age practitioners as a means to fulfill desires both conscious and subconscious. The playwright Tony Fiorentino has attempted to bring this to the audience in the form of a frustrated working drone named Peter Moore. He is a character descended from Roth and John Updike yet updated for our time and current American culture. Moore shares a cubicle and comic relief from the work day with Wally who seems to be an everyday guy but has a Mephistophelian bent with his fantasies and rants against the bosses Lucid 5of the world. Peter and Wally are graphic artists working in anonymity putting doodles and copy on items that end up in the dollar stores of Chicago or plastered on the windows of closed storefronts.

The play opens on the “L” as Wally is regaling Peter with how he stood up to the boss. The dialogue escalates until Wally claims to have taken an ax to the boss. He knows it is a lie but claims that it could happen in the world of lucid dreaming. Wally has taken the class for $300 and wants to share his newfound knowledge with Peter. That benevolence-really malevolence-sends Peter Moore into a descent where he is obsessed with non-reality. On the home front, Peter has what is the new American Dream set on its ear. His girlfriend is pregnant and has moved in taking up the extra bedroom where he once had an art studio. She is portrayed as obsessed with being a family and having Peter as a part of his child’s life. The minute Peter hits the door, he is faced with Becky doing Kegel exercises on the sofa and having ordered takeout to satisfy her eggplant craving. Their relationship is strained even though they each proclaim love and devotion. They all step through the looking glass when Peter gives his seat to a beautiful passenger on the “L”. Peter feels a connection and thinks that she is everything that Becky is not. She leaves her scarf on the train which becomes a fetish for Peter’s fantasies.

Peter is played by Daniel McEvilly. He fits the look of the character and does well especially in scenes with Becky, played by Laura Shatkus. Otherwise his performance came across as a bit too earnest. The artist has attention deficit rather than longings for freedom in his portrayal. This may be due to the writing more than the acting. There are elements of Surrealism and then Transcendentalism and then the Great American Discontent of post war America. They are all worthy subject matter and yet one cringes when Peter and his fantasy lover-Robin quote Thoreau. Mr. McEvilly does a fine job of projecting the rage of the working stiff who is meant for greater things. His scenes with Wally- played by Jake Szczepaniak are at times riveting. They have some great dialogue about art and real life. Sometimes McEvilly veered into preaching but he balanced well off of Mr. Szczepaniak.

The character of Wally is quite complex and well played by Mr. Szczepaniak. Wally is a world class BS artist that hides behind his bravado. He is a Mephistopheles leading Peter into a world that can solve all of his problems without any mention of the cost. When Peter goes too deep into the surreal world of lucid dreaming, Wally tries to take immoral liberties under the guise of being drunk and blacked out. This scene had the possibility of being smarmy but came across as menacing and unsettling.

Lucid _ 1 Lucid 3

Laura Shatkus’ portrayal of Becky is quite good. She has the task of taking on a role that’s written with a misogynistic bent. Pregnant women are usually portrayed as hysterical, needy, and insecure – always at the expense of a very put upon man. Peter goes so far as to count back the days when she got pregnant to claim that the child may not be his. He does not want any responsibility messing up his fantasy life. This is where the play veers dangerously close to melodrama, but Ms. Shatkus’ emotional range and subtlety keep things taut.

The character of Robin is played by Tracey Kaplan. She has a wonderful stage presence that also keeps the drama on course. She is equally charming as the woman on the “L” and the fantasy/muse of Peter’s dreams. The scenes between her and Mr. McEvilly are erotically charged and they play well off of each other. As mentioned before, some of the dialogue is a bit stilted and derivative but great chemistry between actors can be the saving grace. (Speaking of derivative-the homage to “Casablanca” made me chortle rather than feel any regret for the characters.) Robin always appears holding an apple as her symbol of temptation and the great fall of man. It was a bit too obvious and the actors had enough chemistry to not need a superfluous prop.

One would be remiss to not mention the brilliant scenic design by Robert Shoquist. The set is a Kafkaesque mix of cubicles representing the compartmentalization of Peter Moore’s life. It is accented expertly by props designer Lindsay Monahan. There is an assault of the hyper-colored junk that crowds our world including the sound of a Halloween skeleton singing “Just A Gigolo”. The office is a tight box as much as home is a suffocating trap lit beautifully in somber tones by Justin Wardell. The set is on a Lazy Susan mechanism that the actors move between scenes. The physical movement adds to the surrealist tone. One definition of Surrealism is ‘what is beneath the surface is what the mind’s eye sees’. We are taken beneath the surface of Peter Moore’s mind as well as the mechanisms of the drama and maybe the mind of the playwright. This was an enjoyable drama that will be of some interest to those who are into psychology and relationships in our times; that can be a surreal journey in real life.

 

Rating: ★★½

NOTE: This play contains adult subject matter and sexual situations. Parents are advised.

“Lucid” plays on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM at the Athenaeum Theatre 2936 Southport. Tickets are available through Ticket Master at 800-982-2787 or at the Athenaeum box office.

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