Review: Festen (Steep Theatre)

  
  

A party of full earth-shattering disclosure

  
  

A scene from Steep Theatre's "Festen", directed by Jonathan Berry. Photo by Lev Kalmens.

   

Steep Theatre presents

  

Festen

   
Dramatization by David Eldridge
Based on Dogme film/play
Directed by Jonathan Berry
at Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn (map)
through June 11  |  tickets: $20-$22  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

A young melancholy Danish man who is the eldest son and heir to his father’s fortune becomes racked with grief after the drowning suicide of the closest female companion in his life. His sanity is in question. The patriarch of this empire is being celebrated while the son, who knows of a terrible family secret, plots revenge against this man who has destroyed his and his family’s life. Oh, and there’s a ghost. Sound familiar? If you’re thinking: Festen, a dramatic adaptation of a film from the Dogme series, you’d be correct. Any connection to that older play about a Danish prince is purely coincidental—and what a fascinating layer of coincidence it is. Director Jonathan Berry’s production of the Midwest premiere of this London hit is compelling from start to finish. Steep and artistic director Peter Moore have given Chicago audiences what’s sure to be a highlight of the season by bringing this hauntingly human piece to their intimate storefront space.

A scene from Steep Theatre's "Festen", directed by Jonathan Berry. Photo by Lev Kalmens.While the resemblance to Hamlet is resonant (as Berry himself notes) the play takes its cue from several resources. “Festen” was the first film in the Dogme 95 movement, a style of no-frills filmmaking that focuses on stripping away production elements and focusing on verisimilitude in acting, story and mise-en-scène. The setting is the 60th birthday party for Helge (a difficult role mastered by Norm Woodel), the patriarch of an enterprise where family, business and home become entangled. The arrival of the family members is somewhat reminiscent of those murder mysteries where the characters all arrive, and are introduced, each with their own eccentricities. The audience becomes familiar with them in a light-hearted fashion. However, something is quickly off kilter here as Helge’s son Michael (Michael Salinas) begins a profanity laden tirade against one of the servants, Lars (Alex Gillmor) while treating his wife (Sasha Gioppo) like a slave, all in front of his young daughter (Julia Baker).

Some of the other party guests include Helge’s remaining children Christian (Kevin Stark) and Helene (Julia Siple), Helge’s brother Poul (Pete Esposito), his father (Toby Nicholson), and wife Else (Melissa Riemer).This family, on the surface, is more of a well oiled corporation as a whole. When horrid accusations are made by Christian, they are at first mere chinks in the empire that Helge has built. Those more blindly loyal to Helge, like Poul and his personal manager Helmut (James Allen), remain unfazed and continue with routine artificial celebration. All the while, it is the servants on this estate who are clearly running the show. They act as the silent all-knowing purveyors of justice who can completely throw the chain of events off course by simply hiding a set of car keys or a reluctance to pour a glass of port.

To really delve into what’s at stake for the characters in this play would be to divulge certain revelations that you, as audience member, should avoid knowing beforehand if at all possible. The audience response was silent, yet palpable and electric on the night I attended. One of the more fascinating scenes of the evening involves a perfect amalgamation of direction, acting and design in which three separate interactions occur simultaneously in the same area of the stage. A husband and wife make violent love against a wall while a woman reads her sister’s suicide note while another man refuses sexual advances and contemplates his own contempt. All of these moments happen within feet from each other in a choreographed response and obliviousness of the others.

A scene from Steep Theatre's "Festen", directed by Jonathan Berry. Photo by Lev Kalmens.There is not a weak link in this ensemble. It is cast with precision and great care for each of these characters. It will be a crime if the Jeff committee doesn’t remember this ensemble come next year. Kevin Stark leads the cast with his perfect portrayal of repression and redemption. Reimer’s final line in the play is delivered with such calculated casualty that it seems to lift a spell off this wounded family. I could go through why each of these actors should receive recognition, but that’s not quite what this play is about. This is truly about actors providing a service to their audience and to the story. No one actor ever goes too far with the drama or heaviness of the situation, but rather respects these people and story to the fullest extent.

Berry adds the perfect amount of theatricality to grip the audience viscerally and emotionally. His attention to the rituals of this world and their subsequent collapse is telling and authentic. Christopher Kriz’s sound design provides a driving emotional soundscape that encompasses a vast spectrum proving to be ghostly, elegant, foreboding, and yet hopeful. Sarah Hughey’s lighting design creates magnificent shadow effects as well as separates areas of this small space to help convey the story ever that much clearer. The minimalism of Dan Stratton’s clean Scandinavian set design echoes Ibsen and Bergman. The white sterile ornate walls and furniture proves to be disturbing in both an ethereal manner as well as disgusting as a reflection of certain revelations. Prop designer Sarah Burnham’s glassware and table settings play a vital role as they are surgically set in place. Janice Pytel’s costume design is at its best in the contrast between the color in the final scene and the formal coldness in the rest of the production.

Festen is a sophisticated journey of both the emotional and the psychological. It’s a rare piece of theatre that gives the audience a physical reaction to events. There is a moment in the final scene where Michael’s daughter sits on one of the character’s laps. She simply wants a storybook read to her. Due to common knowledge, everyone in the audience shared a knee-jerk reaction along with Gioppo as her mother. In the end, the audience has witnessed first-hand the revelations made and the life altering changes of these characters. I can only imagine what it must be like to see this play and have repressed similar horrific events that are referenced, and it’s very likely more than one seat will be filled with these individuals. While this is beyond heartbreaking, it is also doubtless that we all have hurtful occurrences big or small we’ve suppressed rather than forgotten or healed from. Festen shines a light on the courage of people who confront these battles, many within the private walls of their homes or minds.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

A scene from Steep Theatre's "Festen", directed by Jonathan Berry. Photo by Lev Kalmens.

Steep Theatre’s production of Festen, by David Eldridge continues through June 11th, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. The play runs 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $20 on Thursdays and $22 on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets may be purchased at www.steeptheatre.com or by calling 866-811-4111.

  
  

Continue reading

Review: Mary-Arrchie’s “How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found”

Fin Kennedy’s witty dialogue drives suspenseful production

Mike-Charlie

Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company presents

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found

by Fin Kennedy
directed by Richard Cotovsky
runs through Dec. 20 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

London ad executive Charlie Hunt’s world is disintegrating. He’s just cremated his mother. His all-consuming work leaves him no time to go anywhere or meet anyone, and he’s more and more bothered by a belief that everything in his life is fake. He’s putting massive amounts of money up his nose, his colleagues are asking disturbing questions and he keeps hearing a buzzing in his ears.

Doctor-Charlie Pushed to the edge, one day he simply runs out of his office, leaving his jacket on the back of his chair and his mum’s funeral urn on his desk, and they never hear from him again.

Charlie is the central character of the intriguing "How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found" by rising young British playwright Fin Kennedy, now in Midwest premiere from Mary-Arrchie Theatre at the intimate Angel Island theater. How to Disappear was the first unproduced play in 40 years to win an Arts Council John Whiting Award for New Theatre Writing, after — according to the playwright — being rejected by nearly every theater in London.

Kennedy’s razor-sharp language, exhibited in powerful monologues and witty dialogue, builds a rising suspense as Charlie runs from his former life. Carlo Lorenzo Garcia puts in an intense and fascinating performance as the deteriorating Charlie, expounding on all the frustrations of daily life that all of us experience but few of us act upon. He’s excelled only by the impish Kevin Stark, as Mike, the small-time crook who serves as Charlie’s mentor in disappearing.

Director Richard Cotovsky‘s clever staging adds to the frenetic quality of the work. He gets excellent work from the supporting cast, most of whom play multiple characters — Charlie’s colleagues, chance-met strangers, doctors, telephone operators, etc. James Eldrenkamp stands out in a comic role as a London transit worker, juxtaposing ably with Charlie’s stuffy, upper-class boss.

Dialect coach Kathy Logelin must be an effective teacher — the cast handles class-conscious British with scarcely a stumble. They haven’t spent much on the set, but Scenic Designer William Anderson‘s 2-by-4 and newspaper backdrops contribute effectively to the disjointed, surreal quality of the play.

Sophie-CharlieAlthough there’s no program credit or reference to it in the script, "How to Disappear" was clearly inspired by the classic manual of the same name by Doug Richmond, first published in 1986 by the late, lamented underground publisher Loompanics Unlimited. In one the best scenes in the show, Charlie’s mentor, Mike, explains the techniques in detail. They’ve been updated — with references to SIM cards and Facebook — and slightly adapted for the U.K., but readers of the original will recognize the mechanics as Richmond explained them two decades ago. Whether they still work in these post-9/11, security-conscious days is debatable. Then, as now, it depends on who you want to get away from.

In Charlie’s case, it becomes increasingly clear that that’s himself.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Notes: Second-floor theater has no wheelchair access. Paid parking may be available at the Mobil gas station across the street.

PHOTOS BY RYAN BOURQUE

Continue reading

Review: Infusion Theatre’s “Intrigue With Faye”

Kean (Steve O’Connell) comforts his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to assuage her fears that she cannot count on anyoneProduction: Intrigue With Faye
Producers: Infusion Theatre

Set-up: Intrigue With Faye explores the intimate world of an urban couple whe reach an impasse in their relationship when an infidelity is revealed.  Determined to repair their broken trust, documentary filmmaker Kean proposes to therapist Lissa that they videotape their every move.  Through this videotaping and self-analyzing and reflection, the couple attempts to heal the mistrust and co-dependency that pervades their relationship. 

StrengthsIntruge With Faye’s video effects are pretty cool.  The two leads, Steve O’Connell as Kean and Kate Tummelson as Lissa are gifted actors, and it’s notable that – depsite the fact that Tummelson is the understudy – you never would have known it.  Mitch Golob’s directing skills are adeptly displayed by his ability to keep the production’s focus directly on the two leads, despite the surrounding multimedia bells-and-whistles.   

Weaknesses: Though O’Connell and Tummelson do an exemplary job with their roles, this unfortunately does not allay the fact that their characters are quite uninteresting, especially once they plunge into the seemingly endless videotaping and sef-analyzing imbroglio.  Indeed, it’s interesting to note that the most piquant roles in Intrigue With Faye. 

Summary: This Infusion Theatre Company, now in it’s second year, has set out for itself a very valient and exciting mission: bringing in a new audience of theatre goers through the use of multi-media in telling its stories on stage. Though InFusion’s multi-media themed productions are a breath of fresh air towards Chicago theatre’s pursuit of a wider audience, Intrigue With Faye does not prove to be the best material towards this endeavor.  Slightly recommended.

Rating: ««½

 

Production:

Intrigue With Faye

Playwright:

Kate Robin

Director:

Mitch Golob

Featuring:

Steve O’Connell (Kean), Leah Nuetzel (Lissa), Kate Tummelson (Lissa – understudy), James Farrugio (Frank), Dan Flannery and Marueen Tolman Flannery (married couple), Callie Munson (Tina), Kevin Stark (male patient) and Leah Wagner (Faye)

Design Team:

Lucas Merino (Video Design), Chelsea Meyers (Scenic Design), Michael Smallwood (Lighting Design), Scotty Iseri (Sound Design), Christine Pascual (Costume Design), James Gibson (Props Design)

Technical Team:

Bridgette O’Connor (Assistant Director, Production Manager), Tara Malpass (Stage Manager), Jamie Bragg (Dramaturg), Blair Robertson (Casting Director)

Coming next:

Midwest premiere of Rhymes With Evil (Oct 16 –Nov 23)

More info:

www.InfusionTheatre.com

 

 Kean (Steve O’Connell) breaks the romantic moment with Lissa (Leah Nuetzel)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) breaks the romantic moment with Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) by checking the mail, in InFusion Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of “Intrigue With Faye” by Kate Robin of “Six Feet Under”.

 Kean (Steve O’Connell) attempts to comfort Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) after missing their date, in InFusion Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of “Intrigue With Faye” by “Six Feet Under’s” Kate Robin, running April 17 – June 1, 2008, at the Royal George Theatre Gallery Space, 1641 N. Halsted St. in Chicago.  Tickets at 312-988-9000, and info at www.infusiontheatre.com  Photo by Johnny Knight.

Kean (Steve O’Connell) attempts to comfort Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) after missing their date

Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) turns the camera on her boyfriend Kean (Steve O’Connell) to stop him from cheating on her

Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) turns the camera on her boyfriend Kean (Steve O’Connell) to stop him from cheating on her

 Kean (Steve O’Connell) explains to his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) that she should give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) explains to his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) that she should give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) pleads with his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) pleads with his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) comforts his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to assuage her fears that she cannot count on anyone

Kean (Steve O’Connell) comforts his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to assuage her fears that she cannot count on anyone