Review: One Flea Spare (Eclipse Theatre)

  
  

Eclipse tightly weaves sexual and cerebral dark comedy

  
  

Darcy (Susan Monts-Bologna) and Bunce (JP Pierson) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "One Flea Spare” by Naomi Wallace, directed by Anish Jethmalani.  Photo by Scott Cooper

  
Eclipse Theatre presents
   
One Flea Spare
   
Written by Naomi Wallace
Directed by Anish Jethmalani
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $28  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

Charles’ Law: confine elements together, turn up the heat, watch them expand. Prevent them from expanding, and you watch them burst.

It’s a basic principle of chemistry, and a loose outline for any drama in which characters are trapped together during a crisis. The heat, per se, in Naomi Wallace’s 1995 play is in part the Great Plague that ravaged London during the 17th Century, L-R: Morse (Elizabeth Stenholt) and Darcy (Susan Monts-Bologna) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "One Flea Spare” by Naomi Wallace, directed by Anish Jethmalani. Photo by Scott Cooper.and in part the class and sexual inadequacies of her characters: a wealthy couple quarantined inside their home, and the two poor, desperate scavengers who sneak in for shelter.

Twenty five days into a preventative lockdown with boards and a guard (Zach Bloomfield) sealing the couple’s walls and windows, a young servant disguised as a wealthy man’s daughter (Elizabeth Stenholt) and a sailor (JP Pierson) inadvertently extend the couple’s incubation stay from three more days to a full twenty eight. Tensions quickly escalate.

The plague is only the backdrop in Wallace’s story—to some of these characters, it’s more or less a nuisance than a crisis. The real threats within the estate are offenses to each others’ presumptions and social sensibilities: sexual bargaining, class warfare, homoeroticism…One Flea Spare explores these tasty ideas with a steady mix of poetry and prose, absurd comedy and claustrophobic tension.

Even with violence always looming, and several onstage nods to penetration, the experience is more intellectual than visceral. It’s always satisfying to think about, if Morse (Elizabeth Stenholt) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "One Flea Spare” by Naomi Wallace, directed by Anish Jethmalani. Photo by Scott Cooper.only mostly fun to watch. Underneath the play’s linear-plot exterior lies a mosaic play’s heart, mashing together styles and tones, sometimes with enlightening results; other times, the product is more convoluted.

Director Anish Jethmalani is able to help keep the show grounded in places where Wallace doesn’t, knowing not to overwhelm the tightly packed text. Her straightforward and precise staging provides clarity to themes that could easily otherwise be murky. The cast does likewise. This small ensemble is exceptional, especially Brian Parry as the proud, aging, and sometimes oafish house master. Susan Monts-Bologna achieves sympathy without victimhood as his oppressed wife, and JP Pierson conveys a sense of maturity that’s found somewhere in between a young man’s idealism and an adult’s surrender to reality.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Morse (Elizabeth Stenholt, center) introduces herself to William and Darcy Snelgrave (Brian Parry and Susan Monts-Bologna) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "One Flea Spare” by Naomi Wallace, directed by Anish Jethmalani. Photo by Scott Cooper

 

All photos by Scott Cooper

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Review: Shattered Globe’s “Buried Child”

Shepherd’s critique of shattered American dreams connects to a bleak reality many of us have glimpsed.

 

 

Buried Child
by Sam Shepherd
Shattered Globe Theatre

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Sam Shepherd wrote Buried Child, his ode to the tarnished American dream, in 1978, tapping inspiration from an America disillusioned from a soul-crushing war and economic stagflation. Now, as perpetual war and economic crisis frustrates our own era, Shattered Globe Theatre has revisited Shepherd’s Midwestern epic.

Director Steve Scott  focuses on elucidating the rifting generations in this eulogy for the modern American family unit. Three generations, spanning the 20th Century experience, inhabit the decrepit central Illinois house. Dodge and Halie (a cranky Maury Cooper and caustic Linda Reiter) come from an obsolete agriculture past. Their sons, Bradley and Tilden (Greg Kopp and Gerrit O’Neill), are emotionally and physically handicapped, matching their 1970’s America, nearly a decade after the counterculture revolution came to an abrupt end. Finally, the generation that ushered in punk rock and is represented by Tilden’s son, Vince (David Dastmalchian), and his girlfriend Shelly (Helen Sadler). The play begins with Vince swinging by his grandparents’ house after six years; instead of a fun family reunion, he is baffled because no one, not even his own father, recognizes him.

In Shattered Globe Theatre's "Buried Child", Shepherd’s critique of shattered American dreams connects to a bleak reality many of us have glimpsed. The depiction of this Illinois family just becomes more twisted as the play goes on. With her first glance of the house, Shelley likens it to a Norman Rockwell painting. As evidence of rape, incest, and murder bubble to the surface, any down-home feeling attached to the house quickly dissipates. Themes of family and heritage abound in the play, especially in a ghoulish image that several characters witness—glimpsing a face within a face. Like the splitting generations, Scott punches up these themes, and the play takes on an eerie, nearly Biblical feel.

Kevin Hagan encapsulates this epic mood with his dilapidated set. The world is a fusion of prosperity and poverty, ancient and modern, pride and shame. A static-y television sputters nonsense in front of a torn Second Empire style-sofa. The set also radiates a royal aura: Halie slowly walks down the stairs praising her favorite but deceased son, reeking of Classical Greek tragedy.

Thematically-speaking, some of the performances aren’t in line with the rest of the production, however. Cooper’s Dodge is too much ornery, embittered old man and not enough fallen patriarch. His moments of despair and impassioned anger are still powerful, but they lose teeth because Cooper pushes the humor of the script too far. Kopp has a difficult time balancing his characterization of the one-legged Bradley. He can find Bradley’s imposing, predator side but can’t quite find the infantile counterpoint once his leg is stolen. Sadler’s Shelley is another weaker performance, turning out a bit too annoying.

maurylindaandgerrit-400x266Dastmalachian’s Vince hits the right amount of youthful vigor with just enough instability. As Vince’s shell-shocked father, Tilden, O’Neill manages to be both tender and terrifying. Along with Reiter’s caustic portrayal of Halie, these performances infect the production with suspense, humanity, and madness.

The Shattered Globe production’s staging is dynamic and creepy. Scott fits this story into the intimate stage wonderfully, and uses plenty of levels to illustrate the epic forces shaping the story. Mike Durst’s subtle lighting design helps by imparting an uncanny atmosphere for the world. The design and direction meld to make Shepherd’s creation appropriately perverse.

While Buried Child is definitely darkly funny, the Shattered Globe struggles too hard to make the humor pop. However, the production is still disturbing and undeniably relevant to our situation. Although our national consciousness has altered since the writing of the play, our world is similar to the one Vince dwells in. Shepherd’s critique of shattered American dreams connects to a bleak reality many of us have glimpsed.

Rating: ««½ 

Buried Child,” by Sam Shepard
Directed by Steve Scott
Featuring ensemble members Allison Batty, Maury Cooper, and Linda Reiter
May 14 – July 12, 2009
Tickets $20-$35

 

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REVIEW – “Requiem for a Heavyweight” at Shattered Globe

Requiem for a Heavyweight
“Why do so many have to feed off one guy’s misery?” This line in Shattered Globe’s heroic, heart-wrenching production of Requiem for a Heavyweight, sums up the life of the lead character, a boxer nick-named Mountain (Sean Sullivan). Written by Rod Serling (creator of “The Twilight Zone“) as a 1957 teleplay, Serling lays out for us the extremes that people will go in furthering their own lives, all the while squeezing out every last ounce of dignity from others. Mountain, a tender giant from Tennessee, who at one time was ranked 5th in the world, finds himself unemployed after 14-years of boxing. The play begins during Mountain’s final fight, a startlingly brutal confrontation, blood and sweat flying off him as he is barraged with punch after punch by the soon-to-be victor. His eyes and face beaten to a pulp (with severe disfiguration from years of fighting), the doctor rules that this will be his last fight, as any more damage to his eyes could leave him blind. Feeling indebted to his manager, Maish (Bill Bannon), Mountain finds himself at an employment office, where he meets with job counselor Grace (Paula Stevens), who takes him under her wing, determined to find him a job. This scene involving Mountain and Grace is a marvel to behold, as Mountain clumsily blurts out that – once people see his disfigured face – nobody is willing to hire him. Though Grace sets him up with a job working as a camp counselor, his manager Maish has other plans for him, booking him into the humiliating realm of professional wrestling, posing as an Appalachian Davey Crockett, complete with coonskin hat and long-johns. We are left at the end with deep sympathy for Mountain, while holding inside a glimmer of hope that his life will someday get better.

Strengths: Director Lou Contey has outdone himself with his vision and execution of this glorious story – the ensemble is dead-on in the depictions of their characters. Along with Sean Sullivan, Bill Bannon and Paula Stevens, praise must also be given to the rest of the cast – Brian McCartney, Scott Aiello, and Jamie Vann. The production looks great – with a superbly-adaptable set designed by Kevin Hagan.

Reservations: Though there is little here not to love, the final scene becomes a bit preachy, as Mountain spells out what he is doing and why. Though Mountain is an honorable character, he’s not the type that’s eloquent enough to package his actions so succinctly.

Summary: In Requiem for a Heavyweight, Shattered Globe presents us with a perfect example of the kind of ensemble theatre Chicago is known for: gritty, raw and vulnerable, all wrapped inside a small intimate theatre space. It will be hard to experience a better performance than that of Sean Sullivan, who brings the empathetic audience to tears, as he succumbs to the realization that he has been used and then tossed aside by all those in his life whom he thought were looking out for him. This play is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Rating: ««««

Opening: Shattered Globe’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight”.

One of my favorite Chicago theatre companies, Shattered Globe, continues their exciting 2007-2008 season with the tumultuous “Requiem for a Heavyweight” by Rod Serling; directed by Louis Contey. Opening night is Sunday, January 13th. (hat-tip to Karin McKie for providing the production info)

   

 011208-1942-shatteredgl1.jpgRequiem 3

   
WHAT: Shattered Globe Theatre will present “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” by Rod Serling and directed by Louis Contey.  In this 1956 drama, washed-up prizefighter Harlan “Mountain” McClintock faces the sudden end of his career. Having spent 14 years in the ring, Mountain faces the prospect of a life that does not include boxing and discovers that the skills that almost made him a champion don’t count for much in the wider world. Mountain is torn between the possibility of new love and a promising future offered by social worker Grace, and loyalty to his self-serving manager Maish, who wants to exploit the fighter on the lucrative professional wrestling circuit. Widely regarded as one of the greatest sports dramas of all time, “Requiem for a Heavyweight” is a gut-wrenching account of the merciless prizefight game and the human wreckage it leaves in its wake. 
   
WHERE: Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. (map)
   
WHEN: Opens Sunday, January 13th (3pm) through March 8th (Saturday). Complete schedule here.
   
TIX: Call box-office at 773-871-3000, or order online. Reduced tickets at HotTix (when available).
   
CAST: Scott Aiello (Leo), Bill Bannon (Maish), David Bendena (Greeny), Don Blair (Doctor and Charlie), Craig Degel (Morrell, Thug), Mike Falevitz (young boxer and photographer), Brian McCartney (Army), Paula Stevens (Grace), Sean Sullivan (“Mountain” McClintock), and Jamie Vann (Perelli).
   
STAFF: Kevin Hagan (Production Manager and Scenic Design), Brian McCaskill (Co-Producer), Eileen Niccolai (Co-Producer), Danielle Boyke (Stage Manager), Lou Contey (Director), Mike Durst (Lighting Design), Cybele Moon (Costume Design) and Mike Tutaj (Sound Design).
   
FUNDERS: Alphawood Foundation, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, the Robert J. and Loretta W. Cooney Foundation, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, a CityArts I grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Leo S. Guthman Fund, the Illinois Arts Council, the Mid-North Association and Much Shelist.