REVIEW: Drum Circle Pandora (Quest Theatre Ensemble)

 

Come To The Circle!

 

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Quest Theatre Ensemble presents
   
The People’s Drum Circle Pandora
  
Conceived and Directed by Andrew Park
at
St. Gregory’s Theatre, 1609 W. Gregory (map)
thru September 19  |  tickets: FREE  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Quest Theatre Ensemble has created a community experience in the truest sense of the word with Drum Circle Pandora. This is actually theatre of the people where in the audience is encouraged to participate in a celebratory manner. Many theatres try too hard to draw the audience into an alternative reality for a short time.  Quest, however, provides a dizzying array of percussion instruments for the audience to use, allowing participants to create the production on a primal level.

IMG_4320 The first act is the drum circle part of the evening. Drum circles invite people to release emotion and raise inner consciousness through communal drumming and singing.  Quest expertly uses this vehicle, then, to create an open and receptive audience-experience.  The audience is first given a lesson in achieving different sounds from the drums by cast member Aimee Bass, aka ‘Sister Drum’.  Bass is accompanied by Kim DeVore, aka ‘Sister Didge’.  Bass and DeVore are exceptional musicians; their charismatic presence adds color and intensity to the music emanating from their chosen instruments.

Act two, which adds an electric ensemble to the first act performers, is centered on the myth of Pandora – but with a twist: Pandora was not responsible for all of the evils of the world. Instead, by opening the box, Pandora illuminated what was already there. This makes it possible for humankind to see that the perception of evil comes from within as does all good and hope. Creator Andrew Park provides a Greek Chorus of Brother Sun and the Sunshine Girls to accompany Pandora’s journey. Jason Bowen plays the role of Brother Sun with great humor and a touch of lusty naughtiness.

In the tradition of musicals such as Hair and O Calcutta, songs are anthems to moral restraints breaking free. But Pandora instead explores the responsibility that springs from that freedom. The quandaries are still the same in every era. How does humanity ignore what we have wrought? There is poverty, war, and environmental ravages, but people choose not to put light on the situation. While the entire cast does a wonderful job of dancing and singing, Angelica Keenan does a star turn in the title role. Her skills as a dancer are excellent. One unfortunate exception, however, is a dance she performs while wearing boots, a clunky costume choice that literally hampers the beauty of her movement and the gravity of the scene. Ms. Keenan is paired with Merrill Matheson as her spouse Epemethious. Matheson is excellent in portraying societal denial with the personas of businessman, husband etc.

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A wonderful ensemble featuring music in arena rock style enhances the song productions, harkening back to the Rick Wakeman days of the group Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer in their heyday. The addition of a didgeridoo by Ms. DeVore adds a sinister and primordial shading to Act 2. The music underscores the archetypal essence of the Pandora myth, i.e., women are usually to blame for the downfall of man in patriarchal tales. There was Eve and her apple, before her Lillith and concurrently Pandora. Drum Circle Pandora seeks to put an equal spin on how it all went down and how everyone must look at what we create in full light as the ultimate solution for harmony, prosperity, and good stewardship of the environment. In the process, Quest creates a timely tale, especially considering the state of the world at the moment.

A special mention must be given to the production’s set design and scenic artistry. Nick Rupard and Julie Taylor have done a fabulous job of alternating cyc walls and moveable scenery. Whether it is sunflowers or destruction, the sets are lush, giving added depth to the action. The masks and puppetry by Megan Hovany are exceptional as well. Drum Circle Pandora is a rich and crazy carnival for the eyes and ears. You will be singing the theme song ‘Come To The Circle’ long after you leave the theatre.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
  

IMG_4300 The mission of Quest Theatre Ensemble is to provide free access to theatre for everyone. The productions are free of charge but donations are welcome  – and will certainly help the company buy more instruments and to help spread the word about the production. Drum Circle Pandora is best for ages 12 and up, as some scenes are quite intense.  Also, other than the drumming, I’m not sure if kids younger than 12 will understand the premise (though I’m speaking from a mother’s perspective).

Drum Circle Pandora runs every Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Admission is free but reservations are encouraged and honored. The theatre is located at Quest’s Blue Theatre – 1609 W. Gregory. It is in the St. Gregory the Great School building that is accessible by CTA. Go and get your drum on as the summer wanes!

 

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REVIEW: Street Scene (National Pastime Theater)

How not to revive a play

 

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National Pastime Theater presents
 
Street Scene
 
Written by Elmer Rice
Directed by Laurence Bryan and Keely Haddad-Null
At
National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway (map)
thru April 25th (more info)

reviewed by Oliver Sava

Elmer Rice‘s 1929 Pulitzer Prize winning Street Scene has over fifty characters and a heavy handed script that critiques an urban social structure that doesn’t exist anymore. Why did storefront theater National Pastime revive this show? Dated scripts have a certain appeal in revealing how contemporary society has changed or remained stagnant, and evolved acting techniques can often bring new life to a dusty play. Unfortunately, those only apply if the production is good, and National Pastime’s is not. 

Directors Laurence Bryan and Keely Haddad-Null fail to transform their assortment of actors into a cohesive ensemble, and much of this can be attributed to a lack of definition concerning the world of the play. Rice’s realist dialogue and characters clash with out-of-tune musical interludes and out of sync movement sequences, drawing attention away from the script and onto the weak choices of the creative team. Why have actors play instruments with a track if they can’t stay on tempo? Or have three actors engaging in expressive hand choreography in a corner of the stage in the midst of legitimate dramatic conflict? Some of the decisions are truly baffling, especially an unintentionally hilarious sound cue of a woman giving birth that falls somewhere between an infant throwing a tantrum and Linda Blair being exorcised. These all could be excused if the acting were above par, yet somewhere in the directors’ conceptualization of the script they forgot about the 23 performers on stage.

The plot of Street Scene concerns the hardships endured by the residents of a tenement in New York City, a group of people ranging from fresh immigrants to those having lived in the city their entire lives. The biggest challenge for the actors is the dialects, and their accuracy varies greatly, with most falling on the low end. The New York accents aren’t consistent, creating confusion about where exactly this stoop is located, and there are times when mother-daughter duo Rose (Melinda Ryba) and Mrs. Maurrant (Rebekka James) drop the dialect completely, making it even more distracting when it mysteriously reappears. The immigrant characters don’t fair any better. Musician Lippo (Michael Solomon) sounds more like Cheech Marin than an Italian, and his wife Mrs. Fiorentino (Kiley Moore) struggles to sound anything but American. Mrs. Olsen’s (Alexandra Shepherd) accent sounds like she can be anywhere from Ireland to eastern Europe.

The dialects are such an obstacle that it is difficult to connect with what the characters are actually saying, and plot points get lost in the muddled language along with any emotional resonance. The actors with the best vocals are the most intriquing, particularly Kaplan (Fred A. Wellisch) and his daughter Shirly (Shannon Hollander), who not only have flawless dialects, but also a clearly defined relationship. Their two windows of the tenement’s nine feature the most dynamic storytelling of the entire show, and watching the weary Shirly keep her rambunctious father in check provides actual entertainment value. Even apart these two actors shine, with Wellisch filling the “elderly revolutionary” role (see Awake and Sing’s Jacob) without becoming too tedious, and Hollander creating the show’s most genuine emotional moment, a melancholy goodbye with the tragic Rose.

Certain members of the supporting cast also provide nice but fleeting moments, like the ultra-prejudiced black neighbor Mrs. Jones (Sandra Watson) who is completely unaware of her son Vincent’s (Geoffrey Davis-El) tendency to rape, although the actual assault is some of the worst fight choreography I’ve ever seen. Prostitute Mae’s (Kelsey Hopper) squeaky sensuality brightens her scenes and impoverished mother Hildebrand (Rachel Griesinger) brings some tension to the piece with her chilly demeanor. Otherwise, the acting is stiff and disconnected across the board. Many actors look uncomfortable on stage, particularly when the goofy choreography begins, and line delivery becomes so monotone and dull as the play stretches into hours that it is a chore to watch.

A second intermission is the final nail in the show’s coffin, killing any momentum the lagging production had gathered. Expecting an audience member to wait another ten minutes for the end of a mediocre production is disrespectful, especially when the third act is twenty minutes long.

 
Rating: ★½
 

Street Scene previews March 19 & 20 and opens on March 26 at 8pm. The performances run Thursdays, Fridays Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm to April 25. Tickets are $25. Date night stimulus Thursdays two for one.

        

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