Review: Sketchbook Reverb (Collaboraction)

  
  

High-energy company serves up so-so sample platter

  
  

Dan Krall, James Zoccoli, Kim Lyle, Saverio Truglia, Collaboraction, Sketchbook Reverb

   
Collaboraction presents
   
Sketchbook Reverb
  
Directed by Anthony Moseley
at
Flat Iron Arts Building, 1575 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru March 27  | 
tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Collaboraction has to be one of the most energetic theatre companies on the planet. If you’ve ever seen a past Sketchbook, the company’s signature showcase for new avant-garde works, you understand what I’m talking about. Anthony Moseley and his band of merry artists are like a bunch of teenagers who have forgotten to take their Adderall. The creativity bubbles forth, frequently with a lack of clear direction and focus, making the final product a sight to see but not always a comprehensible sight.

Saverio Truglia, Sketchbook Reverb, Amy Speckien, CollaboractionSketchbook REVERB certainly delivers on whimsy and inventiveness. And just like the eponymous annual series from which its one acts have been borrowed, its inconsistent. Some of the pieces are absolutely brilliant, reaching intense levels of poignancy through bare-knuckled honest comedy. Other times, the wackiness of the plays feels put on in a desperate attempt to appear cutting edge and quirky. When it works, it works. And when it doesn’t, you eye the program seeing what’s next on the menu.

Let’s first discuss some of the winners. “My Yeti Dreams”, written by Lisa Dillman, is a soliloquy delivered by a woman (Laura Shatkus) who falls in love with a grunting, half-naked Yeti (HB Ward). It’s an absurd premise with honest and relatable underpinnings. This woman finds freedom in her love for something so free of social mores. Shatkus delivers a breathy, heartfelt monologue as Ward jumps and grunts with gusto.

Another highlight of the night was “I’ll Never Tell You”, written by Stephen Cone. In this short, a man (HB Ward) is mourning privately over his wife’s corpse (Laura Shatkus). The man reveals to his wife things he regrets not telling her, specifically his many infidelities. Despite the fact that he’s a chronic cheater, the man’s awkwardness and sadness overshadow any judgment we may reserve for him. Instead, we are compelled to sympathize. This time, Ward delivers the monologue, and he does it with great patience and passion. It’s a beautiful performance.

The last high point of the night was “The Lurker Radio Hour”, written by Drew Dir. The short takes the form of an old radio show, which is always a fun format to see staged. The show’s host Steve Larker (James Zoccoli) dawns a sinister-sounding voice while his assistant Alice (Amy Speckien) creates the sound effects. Steve’s wife has left him, and so he uses the radio show as a platform to beg her to return. Meanwhile, Steve is blind to the fact that Alice pines for him. It’s a tale of unrequited love, played out with comedic sincerity by the talented Zoccoli. Speckien does a great job with amplifying the laughs as the timid sidekick.

Cast of "The Untimely Death of Adolf Hitler," part of "Sketchbook REVERB." Photo by Saverio Truglia.

The show’s five other plays range from mildly amusing to aggravating. “The Deep Blue Sea”, by Keith Huff, is bloated with stale, overwrought dialogue. “Tuning in El Paso”, by Ellen Fairey, tries too hard to appeal to our emotions. “Dating: A Cautionary Tale for Facebook Users”, by Ira Gamerman, is like a stand-up routine that doesn’t know when to stop. “A Domestic Disturbance at Little Fat Charlie’s Seventh Birthday Party”, by Andrew Hobgood, is a poor man’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. And “The Untimely Death of Adolph Hitler”, by Andy Grigg, is a decent sketch that quickly wears out its premise.

If you’re a fan of past Sketchbook shows, you’ll definitely enjoy Reverb. If you’ve always wanted to see a Collaboraction performance, Reverb is a great introduction. If you enjoy consistently good, grounded theatre, then Reverb probably isn’t for you. Personally, I applaud Collaboraction for taking risks and not always succeeding, and I appreciate the opportunities they give to new playwrights. They serve to remind other companies that artistic vision should always come before critical recognition.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
   
  

Pictured: HB Ward (Yeti) and Laura Shatkus (Christine) in "My Yeti Dreams," part of "Sketchbook REVERB" presented by Collaboraction. Photo by Saverio Truglia.

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REVIEW: Jade Heart (Chicago Dramatists)

‘Jade Heart’ needs more pulse


Jade Heart 3

 
Chicago Dramatists presents
 
Jade Heart
 
by Will Cooper
directed by
Russ Tutterow
at
Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map)
through May 30th tickets: $25-$30  | more info

by Barry Eitel

Will Cooper calls himself an “accidental” playwright. Apparently, he took a playwriting course after his wife paid for one but couldn’t go. In a rare case of fortune smiling upon someone, the folks at Chicago Dramatists liked his stuff and decided to give him a full production. That’s how Jade Heart was born. The play explores mother/daughter relationships of all shades, centering on a Chinese girl that was Jade Heart 1 adopted by an American woman. Unfortunately, the uneven show doesn’t really cover any new territory.

Jade Heart brings up all sorts of questions about identity, culture, nationality, and family. We flash forwards and backwards through the life of Jade (Christine Timbol Bunuan), as she struggles to connect her past with her present. Jade, you see, was abandoned at birth by her unknown Chinese family, probably a result of the one-child policy enacted in 1979. While she was an infant, she was adopted by American single mom Brenda (Ginger Lee McDermott). Most of the play involves Jade interacting with Brenda and her imaginary Chinese mother, along with the more basic challenges of growing up. Wheeler’s argument gets pretty repetitive; throughout the piece, others identify Jade as Chinese-American, and she constantly rebukes them and claims that she is only American. While this is a valid question and an interesting look at national and cultural identity, the subject gets popped into far too many conversations. If these were condensed down, the play would probably be 20 minutes shorter at least. Another repetitive debate dropped throughout the play is the status of Brenda and Jade’s relationship. How exactly is Brenda a mother? And how does she relate to Jade’s actual birth mother living out in rural China? Again, important questions, but they get dulled down by overuse in the script. Wheeler’s script revolves around a few points, and the production wears them all down by the end instead of throwing in new and exciting information. Although there are some interesting expressionistic touches, such as Jade’s discussions with her masked (imaginary) biological mother, as a whole the play comes off as stale and clichéd.

Not that there aren’t some touching performances in Chicago Dramatists’ production. Bunuan is cute and charismatic. She charms the audience into joining her on her journey. McDermott does a fine job, too, though she gets sort of cheated by the script. We get the vague idea that she is a good mother, but we never see much of the happy times. We witness plenty of sobs and racist/xenophobic tirades, but not a whole lot of a healthy mother-daughter relationship. McDermott commits fully to the role and finds the love where she can, but there just aren’t enough scenes showing us why we should care if Jade and Brenda can connect. These two women are given a fair amount of support by the other actors on-stage. Gordon Chow, for example, pulls double-duty as Jade’s love interest and masked Chinese tour guide, giving both characters life.

Russ Tutterow’s direction keeps the show moving. Nothing really lags here, even though Wheeler often writes in circles. The play does get a push towards the second act, and it finally feels like we are covering new territory. Some of the abstract choices make the world interesting as well; the dialogues between Jade and the mom in her mind are probably the most innovative part of the script and production. Unfortunately, even though the Jade Heart sets itself some very important narratives (identity, culture, assimilation) it doesn’t say anything new about any of them. Everyone involved attempts to drive the story forward, but there just isn’t a whole lot to hook onto.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Jade Heart 2

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See “A Steady Rain” on Broadway with Chicago Dramatists


More than 100 generous donors and friends will be joining Chicago Dramatists on Broadway for Resident Playwright Keith Huff’s A STEADY RAIN, starring Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman – and you can be one of them.

Although tickets for the show are virtually sold out (except for premium tickets at $375 per ticket) you’ll be able to attend the play AND a pre-show party for just $250.

The production exports a playwright (Keith Huff), whom Chicago Dramatists has nurtured for many years, to Broadway and shines a spotlight on Chicago and the other talented playwrights and plays developed here.  This upcoming benefit will go towards helping other upcoming playwrights being honed through the Dramatists’ programs.

Here’s the info:

Saturday, November 14, 2009
The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th Street
8:00 pm Curtain
Pre show Cocktail Party, PS 450, 5:15 – 7:15 pm

Limited Tickets Available at $250.  A  very limited number of prime seats are available at $500 each

For more information, contact Cynthia Frahm at cfrahm@chicagodramatists.org or 312.633.0630 ext: 3#

 

Cynthia and Daniel

Development Director Cynthia Frahm with A Steady Rain star Daniel Craig


Read the rave reviews of A STEADY RAIN in Time Magazine, Variety, and USA Today

http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1927540,00.html
http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117941264.html?categoryid=33&cs=1
http://www.usatoday.com/life/theater/reviews/2009-09-29-steady-rain-jackman-craig_N.htm