Review: Verse Chorus Verse (Tympanic Theatre)

    
  

The Tragedy of Grunge, Redux

  
  

Dennis Frymire, Jon Penick, and Kevin Crispin - Verse Chorus Verse

  
Tympanic Theatre presents
  
Verse Chorus Verse
  
Written by Randall Colburn
Directed by Kyra Lewandowski
at side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through May 1  |  tickets: $12-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Not being a slave to rock ‘n’ roll, I’ve listened, puzzled, to people exclaiming that a certain rock band or music genre saved their lives. I’m equally flummoxed at the notion that any single music artist could be dubbed “the voice of a generation”—there are, after all, so many voices and the most deserving frequently fail to receive widespread attention. Nevertheless, fame places crowns upon a few–that some musicians end in tragedy only serves to superglue that dubious diadem upon the troubled rocker’s brow. Such is the life and music of Kurt Cobain. Tympanic Theatre’s latest production, Verse Chorus Verse, pulls its audience into the milieu of grunge fans, reporters and revivalists marked by Cobain’s death. It’s as if, from the moment he pulled the trigger, time stopped and all hope of going forward was lost.

Actually, Randall Colburn’s interesting new play, under Kyra Lewandowski’s direction at the Side Project Theatre, begins at a far earlier point in the Cobain legend. Fourteen year old Polly (Victoria Gilbert) gets kidnapped, raped and tortured by Gerald Friend (Neal Starbird(left to right) Victoria Gilbert and Neal Starbird - Verse Chorus Verse), who lures her into his car after a punk rock concert–the very same Polly becomes the heroine of Nirvana’s eponymous song on their album “Nevermind”. Flash forward twenty years later, the older Polly now fascinates Garret Leskin (Kevin Crispin), a budding grunge star heralded as the new Cobain, who thoroughly believes that Cobain was murdered. The play’s structure oscillates between the past and present, between that fateful kidnapping and its emotional reverberations far into the future.

For all the dialogue around Cobain and the burden of living up to his legend, the story really belongs to Polly. Gilbert gives a passionate edge to her role’s pathos. Polly is drug-addicted, trapped in the past, and, since becoming enshrined in Cobain’s lyrics, hardly able to see beyond the boundaries of her own legend. The murder mystery that Garret hopes to unravel through her is tangled in half-cooked fictions, inchoate emotional desperation and age-old resentments over who got fame and who got left behind. Dennis Frymore puts in a tough, grilling performance as Mason Dwyer, lead of the Satanic Metal Band, Yeti, who has lost his guitarist Terry (Jon Patrick Penick) to Garret’s up-and-coming band, Samsara.

Lewandoski’s direction also hangs pretty tough—making the most of the black box at Side Project with a spare but versatile set by Dustin Pettegrew. She squeezes every moment for tension and suspense from her cast, shifting between scenes where rockers spar over competing narratives and otherworldly scenes in which Polly survives her kidnapping by Friend, moment by moment, under a starry sky. This doesn’t mean Verse Chorus Verse is perfect. A few fellow audience members confessed to being confused over its alternating shifts between past and present. Plus, the show will obviously carry more meaning for viewers steeped in rock culture. But both the work and production show sophistication, even with its characters’ simplistic pre-occupation with fame. Everyone just wants to be remembered, even Mr. Friend, in a chilling performance by Starbird, tries to be remembered by leaving his marks on Polly’s flesh.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

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Verse Chorus Verse continues through April 7th at side project theatre (1439 W. Jarvis), with performances Thursday thru Saturday at 8:00pm, Sunday at 7pm.  Tickets are $15 general admission ($12 for senior/student/industry), and can be purchased online. For more info, go to www.tympanictheatre.org.

 

Photos by Paul E. Martinez.

 

 

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REVIEW: Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir (Ruckus)

     
     

To get out, you’ll need to use ‘em…or lose ‘em

     
     

Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir - Ruckus Theatre. Photo by Lucas Gerald

   
The Ruckus Theater presents
   
Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir
   
Book/Lyrics by Aaron Dean
Music/Lyrics by
Jason Rico
Directed by
Daniel Caffrey
at
Side Project Theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through Jan 30  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

The Emperor requests a performance by the up and coming boys choir. The royal attention spearheads strategies to keep the vocal stylings intact. What wouldn’t a choirmaster do to cash in on his established prepubescent harmonies? (Imagine Michael Jackson’s dad in 18th century Austria.) The Ruckus presents the world-premiere musical Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir. Originally conceived as a fable based on the Vienna Boys Choir, The Ruckus moved the setting to the fictional town of Haltsburg after a cease-and-desist letter from the VBC. The story centers around the questionable recruitment and retention practices of a boys choir. Back in the day, star performers would retain their position by being castrated. To maintain the higher cherubic quality, it was off with his balls. Motivated by the threat of castration, four boys skip choir practice to flee captivity. Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir promotes the tagline ‘to get out, you’ll need to use ‘em…or lose ‘em.’

Jeffrey Fauver as choir director in 'Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir' - Ruckus Theater. Photo by Lucas GeraldThe Ruckus is staging its world-premiere musical at Side Project Theatre.  It’s a 35 seat theatre with a 13 member cast plus a 4-piece band off-stage. The ambitious undertaking is ballsy! Playwright Aaron Dean has written a fable that chronicles the fugitives’ interactions with a witch, a dragon, a talking rock and a dancing penis. In a small venue, it’s a lot to take in. The Medieval choir torture is an intriguing horrific tale in itself. The puppet pageantry and ancillary characters could be snipped to focus on the real action, though the superfluous pieces do add fantasy elements. But instead of an orgy for the senses, it’s gets clunky, confusing and ultimately unsatisfying – a pleasurable experience is all about one solid thing probed deeper (pun intended?).

Under the direction of Daniel Caffrey, the cast works energetically to escape disaster. The quartet of runaways crawl, croon and create an exit plan. Kate Black (Johanne) leads the singers with an enthusiastic chipper. Alyse Kittner (Nils) brings the sass as a rambunctious sidekick. Liz Goodson (Arthur) anchors the foursome as the stalwart quiet one. Heather Moats (Sebastian) endears as the timid lost boy. Megan Gotz (Victors) connives as the jealous wannabe soloist. These gals don’t need balls to hit the right melody. With the talented he-shes and a tighter script, Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir will take flight. Snip-snip! “It’s easy as A-B-C, 1-2-3…”

  
   
Rating:
   
   

Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes with a fifteen minute intermission

One of the choirboys in 'Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir' at Ruckus Theater. Timo Aker as choir director in 'Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir' - Ruckus Theater. Photo by Lucas Gerald

Production photography by Lucas Gerald.

 

 

  
 

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REVIEW: Ghostbox (InFusion Theatre Company)

 

Where Bergman dared to tread

 

 

Ghostbox (1) - Photo by Kevin Viol

    
InFusion Theatre presents
    
Ghostbox
   
Written by Randall Colburn
Directed by Mitch Golob
Apollo Theater Studio, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through October 31  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info 

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I have to give credit to InFusion Theatre Company for stepping out of the usual experimental game with Ghostbox. Randall Colburn has taken more than a page from one of my favorite directors and made it work by means of multimedia. The one-act play opens with Wife, played by Victoria Gilbert, demonstrating how a simple transistor radio can pick up supernatural signals. The film is shot in a grainy 1970’s patina of de-saturated color. It has an eerie feel and sets the mood for what comes next. The actual stage is painted in washed out gray tones with the screen set center stage. The actors are dressed in gray scale colors as well, with the exception of the Shadow that looms ominously.

Ghostbox is reminiscent of two of Bergman’s masterpieces: “Through a Glass Darkly” and “The Seventh Seal”. Victoria Gilbert’s dialogue would seem repetitive in the hands of a less emotive actor. As Wife, she portrays the agony of loss and the psychology that lies beneath. Colburn’s dialogue reaches into the exotic territory of Reykjavik as the beginning of the love story of Husband and Wife. Husband spoke of Reykjavik as if it were the Promised Land where their love would be perfect. Wife reveals that he kept his deep melancholy and sexual dysfunction a secret.

Ghostbox (7) - Photo by Nastassia JimenezThe characters are kept from connecting and roam a wasteland of radio signals and flashbacks on film. This is indeed a thriller, but thankfully not in the obvious slasher mode. There are no winks at the audience in Ghostbox. This play grabs, releases, and toys with the subconscious. The images of water suggest drowning versus cleansing and purity. Even the scenes of Gilbert standing in a field of solid green are ominous and somehow stark.

Kevin Crispin plays the role of Husband. He bears a stricken hollowed visage that harkens back to German Expressionism films as well as the man playing chess with Death in “The Seventh Seal”. It’s a mystery – is Husband trying to avoid Wife in this murky place that they roam or is he keeping clear because of Shadow.

Ghostbox makes excellent use of sound (sound design by Claudette Perez) with jagged piercing radio signals that cause a few gasps in the audience, adding another layer for the characters to navigate in this nebulous place. I had visions of the old ‘Radio Free Europe’ commercials that called for open radio signals behind what was called the Iron Curtain. I was back in my seven year old psyche and recalling the terror I felt for the people who couldn’t just turn on the radio for pleasure as well as the pain and the smell of what I imagined was a real iron curtain. With Ghostbox, Colburn has created an onomatopoeia of vision and sound that projects a stark and frozen hell. When Gilbert and Crispin are together on the stage the action is taut, feeling as if glass is breaking everywhere without hearing the sounds. Gilbert goes from stricken and grieving to anger – anger at being denied love and sexuality. Crispin treads a tightrope of emotion as it is slowly revealed where they are and how they got there.

If Ghostbox were a film it would be in black and white. Director Mitch Golob keeps the scenes tight and efficient as if he were a film auteur. The suffering of humankind is said to be universal, but how it is expressed varies. It’s a refreshing experience to see a theatre production that does not go for the obvious but definitely hits the jugular. (A strange contrast to see the folks in line for Million Dollar Quartet in the main theatre.) It is a shot of surreal Technicolor and then an Icelandic blast downstairs in the Apollo Studio. Ghostbox is marketed for Halloween entertainment and it will hit the spot. Sleep well children…

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
  

Ghostbox (5) - Photo by Nastassia Jimenez

InFusion Theatre Company presents Ghostbox at the Apollo Studio on Thursdays through Saturdays with a special Halloween Performance on October 31st at 8:30 pm. The Apollo Studio Theater is located at 2540 N. Lincoln. Call 773-935-6100 or www.ticketmaster.com

 

   
   

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REVIEW: All Saints Day (Ruckus Theatre)

A Superb Ruckus

 

 

Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot and Kevin Crispin as Tot.  Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.

   
Ruckus Theater presents
   
All Saints’ Day
   
Written by Ron Riekki
Directed by
Brian Ruby
at
the side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave. (map)
through September 26  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

It’s been quite a while since I’ve had such a good laugh or a mind challenge in the theatre. I believe that the theatre is an art that challenges, enlightens, inspires and provokes. All of these qualities are present in All Saints’ Day: A.K.A. 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones. It’s made clear that this Jeffrey Jones is not he guy from “Ferris  Bueller” but a playwright who also wrote Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones is Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.about Halloween and inspired writer Ron Riekki for this production. However, the story of the actor Jeffrey Jones would have fit right in with this play.

All Saints’ Day presents vignettes, at varying paces, showing the American tradition of trick-or-treating. Do you remember the feeling when you approached the door of the neighborhood crazy lady or the family with cars on blocks in the front yard? This play takes us into the homes and psyches of those folks and others whose doors perhaps you were too timid to approach. The vignettes represent different eras in global history from an American perspective. What lay beyond the door and who walks up to the door?

There are three characters in this play with names from the absurdist tradition. We have Tot, Non-Tot, and Other played by Kevin Crispin, Elizabeth Bagby, and Mathew Humphrey respectively. Ms. Bagby is brilliant as the Non-Tot behind the door. She inhabits the characters at whiplash speed, hilarity and incandescent pathos. Her chemistry with Mr. Crispin as Tot is spot on and electric. It is a surprise every time Tot knocks on the door and says, “trick or treat!” Mr. Crispin is a wonder of physicality and comic timing. He and Ms. Bagby cover a time capsule of Halloween horrors that still reverberate in American culture every time the calendar approaches October 31st. The Tylenol poisonings, cyanide in candy straws, animal waste dipped in chocolate and dispensed by a seemingly sweet neighbor is presented. The play asks the question – whose fault is it really?

One unforgettable vignette presents a television remote gone mad. Non-Tot is watching television when the remote takes on a personality and power beyond her control. Tot knocks on the door and she discovers that she can switch his personas through the remote. Non-Tot furiously hits the clicker as Tot goes from LBJ on Vietnam to Cool Hand Luke to Princess Diana and a still funny George W. Bush. Bagby and Crispin then recite lines simultaneously as they collapse to the floor. This was one of the serious parts of the show as they speak of Joe Hill, The Weathermen, and Dr. King, and others who have advocated for change on many different platforms. It did not break the rhythm of the action with the serious nature of the subject matter because all of comedy has a serious core of truth.

Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones is Matthew Humphrey as Other. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography. In between the scenes Matthew Humphrey as Other injects comic brilliance and levity with placards announcing the scenes. He portrays a priest, a boxing round cutie holding a bout sign and prancing about the ring, and my favorite was an inspired use of whipped cream as body art. Mr. Humphrey is mute for most of the play and yet is integral to the movement, pacing, and dialogue. He is heard offstage in some of the scenes and appears in a speaking role in the final vignette.

The final scene is a departure from the other vignettes, offering a contrast from the American sensibility with a foray into pre-war Germany in the late 1930’s. At first, it’s quite jarring as Mr. Crispin knocks on the door as a character named Ernst and the device of Halloween seems to become the pagan origins of the holiday. It is more of a Samhain feel when the veil between life and death is said to be more evident than any other time of the year. Ernst has come to say goodbye to his friend Franz as the German Workers Party has taken a sinister turn rounding up Jews and displaying an alarming nationalistic fervor – the playwright is alluding to the origins of how hatred takes hold. Ernst gets a trick when he knocks on the door expecting to find familiarity but Franz and his mother have taken on a new guise. Hatred and bigotry are unmasked and unleashed on the world like a virus. That era still holds ominous power as people all over the planet imitate Nationalism to varying degrees. The fact that Riekki can reduce this behavior to brilliant farce is a saving grace of recognition and possible redemption.

Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones is Kevin Crispin as Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography. Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Matthew Humphrey as Other and Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.
Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot and Kevin Crispin as Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography. Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot and Kevin Crispin as Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.

All Saints’ Day” contains language, violence, and portrayal of drug use. The LSD scene is one of the funniest things I have seen ever. The treat offered by Non-Tot is two hits of acid to Tot. He doesn’t feel anything and then Other appears as a dinosaur before morphing into a giant pig. This is theatre on the edge and I loved it.

The play is presented in a minimalist manner in a small black box theatre. The props (Joshua Davis) and scenery (J. Clay Barron) are all very simple but brought to life by the brilliance of the actors and the direction of Ruckus member Brian Ruby. This kind of theatre is what makes Chicago a place where New York comes to look for inspiration and fresh material to bring to their stages. Applause to Ruckus and an appeal to keep the lunacy evident lest we forget.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

All Saints’ Day: AKA 44 Poems about Jeffrey Jones runs through September 26th at Side Project Theatre at 1439 W. Jarvis in Rogers Park and steps from the Red Line Jarvis stop. More information is available at www.ruckustheater.org This is a great opening for the theatre season. It’s a short run-do not miss it!

 

     
     

 

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