REVIEW: BOOJUM! (Caffeine Theatre-Chi Opera Vanguard)

     
    

Is it group therapy or a lobotomy? Both!!

      
     

 

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Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera Vanguard present
   
BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll
   
Books/Lyrics/Music by Martin Wesley-Smith & Peter Wesley-Smith
Directed by Jimmy McDermott
at DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph (map)
through Dec 19  |  tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Drawing from the creative genius of “Alice in Wonderland”, it’s a nonsensical operetta that is all in his head. Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera Vanguard, in conjunction with DCA Storefront Theater, present BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll, written by the Brothers Wesley-Smith. Reverend Charles Dodgson battles his Caffeine&Cov_Boojum!_02pseudonym over the origins of his most famous literary masterpiece. The reserved Charles and the flamboyant Lewis deconstruct their lookingglass fame. Who better to help in the rediscovery process than Alice? Both of them! The child and adult version of Carroll’s inspiration challenge him on the intense connection and de-connection of their relationship. As Charles sorts out his Alice issues, his imagination unleashes the makings for his farcical poem, “The Hunting of the Snark”. Quirky characters fill Charles’ head with a jumble of demands for attention. BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll is a stay-cation to a world of the unexpected. What a head-trip!

Before the show even starts, the visual is intriguing. Projected Carroll Lewis-isms are visible on sheet-like curtains (projections by Justin Meredith). The imagery spectacle continues with the introduction of characters clad in eccentric combinations of attire. Costume designer, Philip Dawkins aids in the storytelling with distinct looks to individualize the crazy muddle. Pearls, goggles, hats, the whimsical detail is a fabulous “What-Not-to- Wear”on-a-snark-hunt-fashion show. The talented ensemble wears crazy-on- their-sleeve tailored to perfection. The first act is high-energy high-jinx as the cluster of oddballs prepare for a snark hunt.

The loonies are flawlessly synchronized in movement for a collective punchline. Individually, they sing their backstory with amusing zest and powerful vocals. Some of the more memorable whacko performances: drunken dolt Sara Sevigny (butcher), stripped down double-the-pleasure Kevin Bishop (billiard maker) and Stephen Rader (banker), and a twisted dark comedic Jeremy Trager (Lewis).

 

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BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll drops you down a hole. It’s up to the audience to piece together the puzzle without the aid of a clear picture. From the title, you know it’s a humorous take on an author notorious for a hallucinatory imagination. The first act is frolicking on speed. Because the material is unfamiliar, and without the aid of projected operatic titles, the jokes are realized a few moments after they are sung. Despite Director Jimmy McDermott‘s masterful staging, some of the laughter is unrealized. The second act gets serious real fast and sidelines the funnier elements to focus on the Charles-Alice relationship. Although a fascinating exposé on a children’s author, the seedy realization is an uncomfortable portrayal, like Johnny Depp in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Finding Neverland” or “Alice in Wonderland”. What’s really going on between this adult and these kids?

BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll is all about looking at two sides of the same thing: Dodgson/Carroll, Past/Present, Reality/Fantasy. Following this splitting trend, I’ll break it into two too. The first act, Boojum: Nonsense is a schizophrenic’s group therapy session. The second act, Boojum: Truth is more like a lobotomy.

   
   
Rating:  ★★★
   
   

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BOOJUM! runs Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm, thru December 19th. Intended for ages 12 and up.  Contains mature themes. 

Running Time: Two hours includes a fifteen minute intermission

 

Production Staff
    
Director: Jimmy McDermott
Musical Directors: Andra Velis Simon & Myron Silberstein
Dramaturg: Daniel Smith
Musical Dramaturg: Eric Reda
Choreographer: Natalja Aicardi
Costume Design: Philip Dawkins
Lighting Designer: Casey Diers
Scenic Designer: Narianna Csaszar
Projection Designer: Justin Meredith
Technical Director: Jason Beck, Dan Cox
 

Ensemble

   
Alex Balestrieri
Kevin Bishop
Marielle de Rocca-Serra
Laura Deger
Kevin Grubb
Stephen Rader
Michael Reyes
Sara Sevigny
Heather Townsend
Jeremy Trager
   
   

Caffeine&Cov_Boojum!_10

3 Words: To my left and a definite voice in my head, James describes the show with ‘a theatrix flambel.’

      
     

REVIEW: Gross Indecency – Oscar Wilde (Black Elephant)

A Modern Take on Indecency


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Black Elephant Theatre presents
 
Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde
 
Written by Moises Kaufman
Directed by
Michael Rashid
Raven Theatre West Stage, 6157 N. Clark (map)
through November 14 | tickets: $18-$22   | more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

We humans love a good scandal. We love to put people on the pedestal of fame and notoriety and then topple the perch. Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde puts a modern slant on the Victorian era scandal that was made of Wilde’s personal life. There is a preamble of sorts set in present day at the Green Carnation Bar on karaoke night. The Green Carnation is a gay bar and the men are mostly Gross Indecency of Oscar Wilde - Black Elephant Theatre 015 young and a study in beauty. The characters are happily drunk and indulging in what could be at best naughty behavior but the fact that they are all men still leaves a dangerous edge to this drama.

The walls of the bar are covered in art that scandalized the Victorians. Aubrey Beardsley’s line drawings of engorged phalluses are joined by a portrait of a Greek boy, an absinthe advertisement, and, of course, Oscar Wilde at his languid best. This preamble serves as an unnecessary distraction – we are not needing a peek behind the walls of what is no longer forbidden, and I find drunken karaoke to only be fun when I am also inebriated. When the lights finally go down, the people in the bar become the characters in Oscar Wilde’s indecency trial.

Wilde made no secret of his love for young men and found a willing partner in Lord Alfred Douglas who he affectionately called Bosie. The Marquis of Queensbury , Bosie’s father, called Wilde a Sodomite and was subsequently sued for libel. It is certain that Wilde was more upset at being called something so common. He was also famous for his wit and aestheticism. To be a mere Sodomite was beneath Mr. Wilde.

The actors portray historical characters with a farcical quality and post modern edge. Mark LeBeau Jr. speaks the dialogue of Sir Edward Clark as if he were in a screwball comedy of the 1930’s – talky and fast.  Unfortunately LeBeau garbles some of his words, and the staging has his back to the audience for some his scene.

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Casey Chapman is glorious to watch as Sir Alfred Douglas-Wilde’s beloved Bosie. Chapman portrays a glowering and somewhat petulant Douglas who defies his father and revels in his sexuality in the times when even the piano legs were covered in the parlor. Chapman looks the part of an aristocrat in his carriage and his enunciation. He and Kevin Bishop as Oscar Wilde bring erotic shading to ‘the love that dare not speak its name’. The fact that the staging is in a modern bar takes away the bodice ripping illusion of Victorian times.

Danne W. Taylor is menacing as the Marquis. He dons an eye patch for the role and it is a nice addition. In one moment Taylor is the chicken hawk in the bar and in the next a hypocrite with a title disowning his son.

Jake Szczepaniak is great comic relief as George Bernard Shaw. It is known that Shaw was a champion for equal rights and quite the curmudgeon, but his appearance is a welcome non sequitur to the proceedings.

Alex Polcyn plays one of the judges to great comic effect as well. The hypocrisy of the times and the ridiculous nature of making an example of one man is a great premise for a farce. Polcyn dons a U.K. style court wig and orates like a Monty Python character. The timing and elocution are perfect and a lot of fun to watch in spite of the heavy subject matter.

Gross Indecency of Oscar Wilde - Black Elephant - Emily Granata 013 In the second act, Kevin Bishop is seen more as Wilde. He is wonderful in the role and portrays Wilde’s famous wit and refusal to be common. Michael B. Woods is very funny as the cardigan -wearing judge in Wilde’s trial that sends him to prison. Woods is the quiet and observant bartender for most of the play and then transforms into a perfect vision of a cranky old man banging on the table for order in the court.

It is fortunate that the comic moments are in this production. Wilde was funny and acerbic with little tolerance for fools. Moises Kaufman incorporates a lot of the trial and Wilde quotes, but runs a bit on the talky side. It’s a razor-thin balance that Kaufman’s dialogue treads. He attempts to show how anyone’s life can be misconstrued as a criminal act just by how they choose to live. Black Elephant Theatre uses the subtitle ‘love is a crime’, recalling the early days of the AIDS epidemic when gay men were targeted as the means by which a plague was unloosed. The same thing happened to Oscar Wilde and just as painful and ignominious death awaited him when he was released from prison.

Michael Rashid’s direction is skillful, though one wonders what he could have done if time were shaved off of the production and if farce and drama were more seamlessly blended. At times the action feels like one of the Beardsley’s exaggerated drawings, and  then suddenly it’s as murky as the absinthe that Wilde supposedly imbibed.

I recommend this production with a caveat. Unless you dig watching drunken karaoke, take a pass on the pre-show. It’s meant to get the audience into the mind frame of the times and the characters, but it adds more time to a production that clocks in at two hours without karaoke.

 
 
Rating: ★★½
 
 

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Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde is a presentation of Black Elephant Theatre and runs Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sundays at 8:30pm through November 14th. The production is located in the West Stage of the Raven Theatre Complex at 6157 N. Clark St. in Chicago. A trailer of the play and more information is available at www.blackelephanttheatre.com

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REVIEW: Hello Again (Boho Theatre Ensemble)

LaChuisa musical a sexy success for Boho

 

Adam Fane and Ben Burke 2 

 
Bohemian Theatre Ensemble presents
 
Hello Again
 
Written by Michael John LaChiusa
directed by Michael Ryzcek and Stephen Rader
Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through May 1st (more info)

reviewed by Oliver Sava

  I’m going to preface this review with a simple plea to all theater patrons: Please turn off your cell phones when you enter a theater. Nothing kills momentum like an iPhone going off at minute 85 of a 90 minute musical, so please just turn it off.

That being said, BoHo’s production of John Michael LaChiusa’s raunchy sex musical Hello Again can’t be stopped by pesky ringtones. The sexual exploits of ten characters are detailed in ten scenes that take place in a different decade of the 20th century, and LaChiusa adjusts the score to fit the period, creating a musical collage Tom McGunn and Adrianna Parson with styles ranging from opera to disco to bubblegum pop. Directors Michael Ryczek and Stephen Rader utilize the intimate (read: tiny) space exquisitely, navigating their ten actors without the stage ever seeming too crowded, a feat accomplished by making sure no one stays in one place for too long. The directors are aided by Stephen M. Genovese masterful set, which utilizes a wall of turning wooden panels to subtly suggest environments without requiring much room while also creating exits and entrances when needed.

The music begins and the company takes the stage with their best “come hither” looks, standing in silence before dissipating and leaving the audience with the patron saint of sexuality, Whore (Christina Hall). She greets wandering Soldier (Tom McGunn) with the show’s title number, setting off a series of erotic encounters that run the gamut of the sexual spectrum while retaining emotional intensity through LaChiusa’s revealing lyrics. As the characters get physical, the songs delve into their psyches, revealing the pains and pleasures of promiscuity but also the basic human need for affection, sexual or not.

The entire ensemble, musically directed by Nick Sula, has a great handle on the complicated score, but the women of the cast provide the most memorable performances. Bookending the production, Hall’s strong belt impresses, particularly considering the wide range of the opening number – but where she most excels is in capturing the character’s vulnerability, portraying a woman who lives a life of passion without intimacy. “Morally bankrupt” Young Wife (Erin Creighton) struggles to stay faithful to Husband (Kevin Bishop) as her sexual curiosity leads her into the arms of College Boy (Sean Knight), and Creighton switches between reluctance, glee, and regret as she becomes more engrossed in her torrid affair. Her song “Tom” is a highlight, a heartbreaking recount of a missed love connection at a restaurant that lingers on her mind while she has sex with Husband, and Creighton’s ability to sing in her higher register while remaining at a low volume makes the number all the more chilling.

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But when it comes to crazed unbridled sexuality, Nurse (Adrianna Parson) takes the cake. After being raped by Soldier, she transforms into a maniac that uses sex as a weapon. In the scene following with College Boy, she twists nipples and ties up wrists before stripping down and mounting her unsuspecting patient, singing mid-coitus, “Somebody took what was mine, I say that ain’t gonna do. I want a little bit, give me a little bit, I’m gonna steal a little bit of you.” The disturbing scene is made all the more effective by Parson’s fearlessness, and she turns in one of the raunchiest sex scenes I’ve seen on stage.

Actress (Heather Townsend) is the most technically spectacular of the bunch, and Townsend shows off her thunderous pipes with “Mistress of the Senator,” one woman’s frantic plea to keep her uninterested Senator (Robert Whorton) at her side. The song requires incredible diction and range, and Townsend shows fantastic control, attacking consonants to clarify the tongue twisting lyrics and breath control for miles.

Hello Again is a play about the needs we all share, sexual or emotional, and Bohemian Theatre Ensemble’s production doesn’t hold itself back. The dedication of the actors to the material translates to raw excitement on the stage, and when the company says goodbye in a round of “Hello again,” get ready to reach for the nightstand because you’re gonna want a cigarette.

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

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