Review: Feet of Clay (LASTmatch Theatre Company)

     
     

Southern retelling of ‘Three Sisters’ needs the family spirit

     
     

Craig Cunningham, Paul Dunckel, Brandon Ford, Larry Garner, Chris Hart, Leah Karpel and Kimberly Logan in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company in Chicago.

  
LASTmatch Theatre Company presents
  
Feet of Clay
  
Written by Stephen Louis Grush 
Directed by
David Perez
at Royal George Gallery Theater, 1641 N. Halsted (map)
through March 19  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

A reimagining of Chekhov’s Three Sisters set 200 miles outside New Orleans, Louisiana, Feet Of Clay finds sisters Orah (Kimberly Logan), Matty (Jennifer Alexander), and Iris (Leah Karpel) Ledet struggling to adjust to life a year after their father has passed away. Orah despises the students at the school where she teaches, Matty is in a loveless marriage to an unseen husband, and Iris clings to the ideal of New Orleans, a place she never truly called home, but dreams will one day be. As Matty and Iris become involved with soldiers from the nearby military base, their Craig Cunningham as Sonny in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company in Chicago.deadbeat brother Andy (Chris Hart) and his trailer trash wife Nambi (Annie Kehoe) assume control of the house, desecrating their father’s memory. While Grush’s plot hits the same major points of Chekhov’s, the script suffers from severe pacing issues, moving so quickly that it never fully establishes the relationships between the characters.

Running only 90 minutes with no intermission, Feet Of Clay tries to cram as much story as possible in a limited time, forcing events to move at a speed that doesn’t feel natural. The first act sets up the story points in quick succession, with the second exploring their conclusion one year later, but there’s very little time spent showing the characters building relationships with one another. Matty and Vincent’s (Paul Dunckel) romance suffers because we never get to see them when they are a couple. They’re in love with each other because they have wildly different opinions on crawfish? In the second act both of their spouses become complications, but there’s not any initial tension established between the characters to make the threats feel dire.

The love triangle between Nick (Brandon Ford), Iris, and Sonny (Craig Cunningham) suffers from the same issue, although Iris’s relationship with Nick seemingly appears out of nowhere after Sonny dotes on her (stares at her creepily) in the first act. Grush builds Sonny’s mental instability through two solo scenes, the first at the start of the play when Sonny wakes up from a night terror, the second when he stands drunk and half naked in the rain. Sonny is probably the character that gets the most development in terms of showing multiple facets of a personality, but the character’s big act two moment feels gratuitous and improperly handled by the script. Sonny’s relationship with Iris may be intended to symbolize New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina (which occurs between the two acts), but the consequences of Sonny’s actions are never seen, making the events feel tacked on to build emotional conflict without following through.

     
Chris Hart and Annie Kehoe in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago. Jennifer Alexander and Paul Dunkel in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago

Rather than building the characters through dialogue and interactions with each other, most development occurs during speeches where the characters are finally able to express their innermost desires and conflicts. Iris has a freak out about being bossed around on her birthday, so she feels inferior. Orah complains about the “maggot” kids she teaches, so she’s unsatisfied with her life. Matty talks about tarot and how life is all about symbols, so she’s a free-spirited thinker. And while monologues can be effective, it becomes repetitive when characters go to a corner and say their opinion in one big oration. Monologues don’t help much when it comes to building interpersonal relationships because they’re singular by nature, yet much of the characters’ emotional lives come through in these moments. It would be nice if the insight shown in the monologues were distributed throughout the dialogue.

A major problem with Feet of Clay is that the three sisters and brother never really feel like a family. Orah, the oldest of the four, is played with such one-note brashness that it’s difficult to ever care about her. There is rarely a moment when she is not complaining about her work, or demanding something from another person, and when she finally does show a moment of vulnerability, she gives a pretty pathetic reason for her bitchiness. By the time Nambi and Andy get their big monologue Larry Garner as Ivy in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago.moments (every character gets one), they’re such repulsive characters that there’s not much reason to care. Kehoe falls into a stereotypical trailer trash type that feels put on, and her relationship with Hart feels as forced as the rest of the romances in the play. Karpel seems to be the only one trying to create some sort of family dynamic, her delusions about New Orleans pushing to keep them together, but ultimately her character becomes as scattered as the rest.

Replacing Moscow with New Orleans creates a lot of opportunities to incorporate southern American history and imagery, but beyond a few references to kudzu and the southern dialect, these go largely unexplored. Nick mentions how the South is so different from what he sees on TV, and Feet Of Clay’s Leesville is different by not having all that much character at all. The Ledet father’s friend Ivy (Larry Garner) brings in some context when he tells a story about how he improved at math by working at his father’s store, and it’s a quiet moment that has as much value as the intense, dramatic explosions. With a few more of these calm moments, LASTmatch Theatre’s Feet Of Clay could explore the depths of the relationships and develop the characters more completely. The show is all tension, but there needs to be moments of relief that serve as reminders for the characters – and the audience – of why they choose to stay.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Performances run 2/11- 3/19, Thu, Fri, and Sat at 8pm at the Gallery space at Royal George Theatre. Tickets are $25 and are available through the Royal George Box Office and www.ticketmaster.com. For more information call the Box Office at: 312-988-9000 or visit www.lastmatch.org.

     
Leah Karpel as Iris and Jennifer Alexander as Matty in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago. Kimberly Logan as Orah in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago.

Brandon Ford and Leah Karpel in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago.

Performers include Craig Cunningham, Paul Dunckel, Brandon Ford, Larry Garner, Chris Hart, Leah Karpel, Kimberly Logan, and LASTmatch founders Jennifer Alexander and Annie Kehoe.

     
     

REVIEW: The Last Daughter of Oedipus (Babes With Blades)

A New Sophistication for a New Kind of Savior

 Logan Black JK 4583

  
Babes With Blades presents
   
The Last Daughter of Oedipus
   
Written by Jennifer L. Mickelson
Directed by
Tara Branham
at
Lincoln Square Theatre, 4754 N. Leavitt (map)
through September 25  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

It’s a good thing there’s an afterlife in The Last Daughter of Oedipus or we mere mortals could easily write off its heroine, Ismene (Kimberly Logan), as a failure at everything she attempts in life. With her new play, produced by Babes With Blades at Lincoln Square Theatre, Jennifer L. Mickelson totally revises Ismene’s traditionally meek and incidental role in Classical myth and literature. More importantly, Mickelson re-imagines her heroine within absolutely appropriate parameters of Ancient Greek religion. The characters of this drama thoroughly believe in the gods, in prayer, in Logan Begale JK 4848 ritual and in the less glowing side of Greek religion, the shadowy beliefs about the supernatural and the underworld. Classical geek alert: The Last Daughter of Oedipus is mythologically correct.

Her sister, Antigone (Sarah Scanlon), is dead and buried, making Ismene the last of her bloodline. Now a mournful Kreon (Michael Sherwin), her uncle, rules her dynasty’s city. Creon’s judgment has always been suspect and now crumbles under the guilt of the deaths of his son Haemon and Antigone. If only Ismene could break the original curse that has brought her family and city low, she might be able to rebuild Thebes after its terrible period of war and strife.

Ismene escapes Thebes to seek Theseus’ counsel at Athens, accompanied by her ruddy servant Zeva (Eleanor Katz). On the way, three Athenian women, Amaranta (Mandy Walsh), Cassia (Jasmine Ryan) and Alcina (Katie Mack) redirect her to the Oracle at Delphi. Theseus had just departed to march on Thebes and now Ismene must consult the Oracle in order to understand and break the curse before war breaks out in earnest between her city and Athens. All the while, dark dreams of her incestuous mother Jocasta and her doomed sister Antigone haunt Ismene, driving her onward but giving her no rest or hope. Soon it becomes apparent that Ismene’s dreams and visions are not just in her head but, rather, originate from the ancient Furies who act to fulfill the curse against her family.

Tara Branham’s direction reigns almost effortlessly over the smooth flow of action from fight scene to fight scene. Additionally, her incorporation of Mercedes Rohlfs’ movement direction with Libby Beyreis’ fight choreography truly inspires and evokes stronger veracity for the play’s supernatural elements. The dreadful Furies, Tisiphone (Moira Begale-Smith), Alekto (Amy E. Harmon), and Megaira (Sarah Scanlon), recall the Witches in Macbeth or the ghost of Hamlet’s father, who could be leading the protagonist to truth and/or destruction.

The Last Daughter of Oedipus exhibits increasing theatrical depth for Babes With Blades, in both its writing and execution. Lighting (Leigh Barrett), sound (Stephen Ptacek), and costumes (Emma Weber) reveal a powerfully cohesive artistic vision. Furthermore, this play re-awakens, for modern audiences, the original purpose of tragedy in the city-state of Athens, which was to use familiar myth cycles to examine social and political challenges for the health of the state. Ismene’s final monologue before the end of the first act interrogates the sources of terror as much for our own times as for her own.

 

Harmon Logan JK 4800
Harmon Logan Begale Katz Scanlon JK 4649 Katz Black JK 4551

Kimberly Logan brings intelligent desperation to her interpretation of Ismene. The role itself swings from feeling badly to feeling less bad to feeling profoundly bad before Ismene’s final redemption in the underworld. It’s up to supporting characters to realize the plays’ lighter side—to which end, Harmon’s turn as the Pythia at the Oracle of Delphi makes for amazing and insightful comic catharsis. Here is a scene that both spoofs and takes seriously our era’s Goddess spirituality movements.

If there’s any fault to be found, it’s in pacing problems, which could easily be resolved in the course of the run. The cast has mastered Mickelson’s heightened language for intention and now needs to pick up the pace in some scenes for crisper realism. As for the fight scenes, standard to BWB productions, a bit too much control undoes the edge that makes for the realistic and thrilling danger of actors swinging swords around. The cast shouldn’t hurt themselves, but they’ve got to make it look like they could!

Of the very few venues in which Attic women actually held power, the exercise of religious offices and duties gave them the greatest social prestige and political influence. Hence, it’s only logical that Babes With Blades’ latest production sees Ismene battling with supernatural forces beyond her control. Yet, it is the their theatrical handling that displays the company’s increased sophistication in its mission to train women in combat roles and develop new dramas featuring fighting roles for women.

    
   
Rating: ★★★½
  
  
 

Mack Logan Ryan Walsh JK 4304

      

 

Continue reading

Review: Thunder & Lightning’s “Home Front”

 Triteness Wars Against Tragedy in “Home Front”

Thunder & Lighting Ensemble presents:

Home Front

by James Duff
directed by Jimmy Binns
thru November 15th (ticket info)

Review by Paige Listerud

lightning_treeOne of the charming things about theater in Chicago is that, sometimes, notices of openings come from surprising places. We received news of Thunder & Lightning Ensemble’s production Home Front from somebody’s parents. We’re grateful for the alert. Rarely do we see a play about the cost of war to families in the form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, let alone a play that explored it long before it received recognition from our government or military. James Duff’s work seems American Primitive in its melodrama. But its power to reflect grinding family minutiae and its propensity to mask more devastating issues is scary in its accuracy.

All the more reason to handle Duff’s dialogue with care, especially since talking about the peanut brittle is sometimes not about the peanut brittle. It’s 1973. Jeremy (Mike Steele), the son of Bob (Marc Kelly Smith) and Maureen (Joan Merlo) and little brother to Karen (Kimberly Logan), is back from the war in Vietnam. As if holidays aren’t brutal enough–how will they get through Thanksgiving when Vietnam is the elephant in the room?

This production is worth seeing for Marc Smith ’s performance alone. His portrayal of this family’s baffled and embattled patriarch never hits a wrong note. We might even believe he lives here and refrain from sitting in his chair. Mike Steele’s Jeremy provides electricity in his increasingly dangerous outbursts. Joan Merlo’s suburban housewife Maureen shows genuine, folksy depth, from her needling attempts to nag her children back to church to her frustrated pleas to be respected beyond household servitude. Yet Merlo, no less than Logan, must beware of devolving into caricature. Logan’s performance in particular has to show more range beyond being a stereotypically peevish sibling or her role succumbs to two-dimensionality.

Kurt Bradenstein’s set design makes the most of EP Theater’s stage and is, in many ways, absolutely appropriate–its efficient use of cramped space emphasizes Home Front’s claustrophobic atmosphere. Here every bit of direction becomes magnified. Unfortunately, director Jimmy Binns informs the actors with only limited and utilitarian range of movement. The blocking is perfunctory and does little to enhance the dramatic value of each deceptively insignificant moment.

It’s too bad, because this capable cast could tease out more nuances from typically stock characters. Maureen may be the dutiful wife and mother, but she also has a stinger in her tale that could be whipped out with more flourish before it disappears beneath her housewifely frumpiness. Karen’s whiny demeanor should not conceal the love she feels for her brother, frustrated all the more when he denies her attempts to re-establish lost camaraderie.

Family life is a tangled web, woven by years of self-deception and the acceptance of consensus fictions that hold the family together. No need to blame it all on Nam, man. With Jeremy, Karen, and Maureen all threatening to leave, Vietnam may only be the final lie that rips it all wide open. Now all this production needs to do is delineate that web for the audience in all its hideous glory.

Rating: ★★