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: Trans Form

   
  

At the heart of a hidden woman

     
     

Rebecca Kling - Trans Form - New Suit Theatre Company

   
New Suit Theatre presents
   
Trans Form
 
Written and Performed by Rebecca Kling
Directed by
Kate McGroarty and Kristin Idaszak
at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
through Dec 5  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Transgender people face the Herculean task of getting the world to perceive them as the gender they experience themselves to be when all physical characteristics say otherwise. If our culture simply allowed people to discover their gender expression, rather than expecting them to squeeze into one of two bifurcated gender molds, then gender would become just another aspect of personal expression and be allowed its evolution in the individual.

But we don’t live in that kind of world, do we?

Rebecca Kling’s one-woman show, Trans Form is decidedly, consciously intimate and low-key. It renders in minute detail the everyday ways in which transgender people can feel their personal authenticity subverted or denied. That Kling unsentimentally reflects on how she has denied herself in the past is one of the more intriguing and thoughtful elements of this one-act play, produced by New Suit Theatre and co-directed by Kristin Idaszak and Kate McGroarty.

Kling begins with childhood games in which she plays at being a girl but, essentially, her childhood and adolescence is lived as somebody else. Hair pulled back into a bun, in jeans and a dress shirt that covers but can’t conceal her breasts, Kling progresses to femininity as her tale unfolds across twenty years of living in a masculine body. Nothing other than a persistent desire to be a girl, a girl growing into womanhood, sustains her sense of self. But, terrifyingly, it’s a self that can just as easily desire to commit suicide, since what that self wants seems too impossible or too burdensome. Bound in the body of an adolescent boy, Rebecca emerges in Kling’s mind as an urgent, cajoling, even threatening alter ego.

So far as support from the outside is concerned, too much of it appears slight and ephemeral against the expectations that gender will eventually match the male body she was born into. Even basic sentences like, “I think I want to be a girl,” can give her parents too much hope, hope that their child will someday emerge “normal,” her gender non-conformity reduced to a harmless phase. Her therapists are either supportive but clueless or really clueless in subjecting her to arbitrary and meaningless tests. Dressing up for Halloween provides scant relief since, for all her efforts, she can’t even pass as female as well as her drag-attired gay college roommate.

Trans Form 4

Love provides Kling the impetus to change and take on the risks and difficulties of transitioning. Love from a woman, who accepts Kling’s identity as a woman, sparks her transformation. Here’s where Kling’s story becomes oddly truncated. In order to appeal to wider audiences and educate beyond the transgender community, Trans Form has to deliver some kind of basic “Transgender 101” talk. But it is the emotional process of transitioning that sustains audience interest. With Rasean Davonte Johnson’s projection design and Sarah Gilmore’s sound design, Kling dons a white doctor’s coat to handle this segment humorously, like the spoof on a black and white 1950’s Social Etiquette film. However, the segment also belies the trickiness of blending personal, lived experience with the medicalized constructions of transgender identity. We hear no further about the affair. It becomes sacrificed to the dry, wry and cerebral delivery of psychological definitions and medical jargon.

Likewise, this show still needs further development to sustain even theatricality in the telling of Kling’s story. Some moments are very effective—as when she demonstrates the unremitting requirement of daily hormone therapy. But other sections still require greater physicalization and translation into visual metaphor. Kling has enough emotional distance from her material to observe it with wry and reflective eye. That makes her point of view necessary on a subject that could easily degenerate into maudlin self-absorption. But the artist also needs to lay bare the heart with clarity and precision. An audience may be better informed about transgender experience at the end of Trans Form, but hitting all the emotional bull’s-eyes of transitioning will force them to feel it.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
   
   

Trans Form 3

      
     

Production Team:

Scenic Designer: Sally Weiss, Costume Designer: Kristen Ahern, Lighting Designer: Michael Warden, Sound Designer: Sarah Gilmore, Projection Designer: Rasean Davonte Johnson, Stage Mngr.: Lauren Lassus, Production Manager: Jordan Danz

     
     

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REVIEW: Choose Thine Own Adventure (Filament Theatre)

An adventure worth choosing!

 

Choose Thine Own Adventure Image 2 (CMYK)

   
Filament Theatre presents
   
Choose Thine Own Adventure
   
Adapted from William Shakespeare by Allison Powell
Directed by Julie Ritchey
at The Underground Lounge, 952 W. Newport (map)
through December 11  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

With its fifth season opener, Filament Theatre Company wanted to explore what a Shakespearean theatre setting might be like in the 21st century. They were inspired by the groundlings who stood in the “yard” of the Globe Theatre to watch Shakespeare’s production, yelling, talking and being boisterous throughout the performance. They asked, “Why not embrace that rowdy, passionate side of the human spirit and perform Shakespeare as the groundlings would have wanted it?” Filament Theatre has done away with traditional theatre elements, tearing down the fourth wall and setting the show in a bar to see what can happen with their production of Choose Thine Own Adventure.

The Underground Lounge provides the setting for Choose Thine Own Adventure. The stage is set to look like a London stage circa the Elizabethean period. There are only a few set pieces, mainly a bench center stage that offers use as it is, as a balcony and as a boat to name a few. The bar atmosphere lends itself to the interaction between the actors and the audience. Pre-show entertainment gets everyone in the mood with music rocking out of the speakers while the actors play various games like ring toss with the audience. It’s rowdy, outgoing, lively fun and festivities that foreshadow what’s to come.

Choose Thine Own Adventure Image 3 (CMYK)As soon as Choose Thine Own Adventure begins, it’s clear that hilarity will ensue. The four person ensemble of Dromio (Marco Minichiello), Antonio (Ped Naseri), Bernardo (Omen Sade) and Rosalind (Mary Spearen) is equally strong and talented as they play both their roles and themselves as characters. The show opens with each cast member reciting various lines of Shakespeare. They ham it up and play it out the audience in a stagey but entertaining manner. It’s then made known that there’s a mix up as to what show is to be performed so the actors turn the choices to the audience. Completely tearing down that fourth wall between the stage and the seats, the audience is brought right into the action as the actors deliver various choices on where the action can go. Depending on the response they receive, Choose Thine Own Adventure can end in at least 20 different ways. Choices include where the scene should take place, what action should occur or whether it should be a comedy or a tragedy.

All four cast members are clearly comfortable playing off the audience and do so confidently. They are great with comedic timing and adlibbing lines for effect. Naseri in particular delivers some hysterically improved lines. Naseri, Sade and Minichiello have each created a unique persona for their character. Naseri cleverly plays into the comedy and the laugh lines. Minichiello excels at playing off and playing to the audience while reciting Shakespeare with skill, and Sade powerful stage presence allows him to fill the space. Spearen holds her own against the men of the cast, inserting her own wit and comedic talent as she plays opposite each man.

Choose Thine Own Adventure Image 1 (CMYK)The cast is fully engaged throughout the run of Choose Thine Own Adventure, which keeps the audience glued to the action, cracking up and laughing out loud for the entire one-hour run time. They are able to adjust to whatever the audience chooses – and then jump right into the action. While it is funny and entertaining, it is still Shakespeare at its core. The cast has a clear understanding of Shakespeare’s plays and delivers quality performances of the actual material while adding the fun and twists.

Choose Thine Own Adventure is both a well-done work of Shakespeare as well as a hilarious good time that’s full of laughs and lively action.  Filament Theatre has truly created an adventure worth choosing! 

    
   
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Choose Thine Own Adventure Image 4 (CMYK)

Choose Thine Own Adventure plays at The Underground Lounge, 952 W. Newport Ave., through December 11, 2010. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at http://www.filamenttheatre.org/tickets/

   
   

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REVIEW: The Franklin Expedition (The Building Stage)

Franklin ends up lost once again

 

 Franklin Expedition cast - The Building Stage Chicago

   
The Building Stage presents
   
The Franklin Expedition
   
Conceived and Directed by Blake Montgomery
at
The Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter (map)
Through October 30  |  tickets: $20-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Billed as "A slightly delusional, historically inaccurate, fragmented portrait of a lost explorer," The Building Stage’s world premiere The Franklin Expedition centers on Sir John Franklin, a British naval officer and Arctic explorer who mapped much of the northern coastline of North America. In 1845, he set out with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, to traverse the last uncharted section of the Northwest Passage, but never returned. Numerous search and rescue missions were sent, but Franklin and his 128 men were lost. An 1854 expedition interviewed Inuits and learned that the ships had become icebound. The crews had tried to reach safety on foot, resorting to cannibalism in their efforts to survive, but all succumbed to the bitter conditions. A horrified Victorian public refused to believe this account of their heroic explorers, but recent discoveries seem to bear it out. The mystery of what happened to Franklin’s expedition inspired the ballad "Lord Franklin, “Wilkie Collins,” 1856 play The Frozen Deep and a variety of other artistic works.

Franklin Expedition cast - The Building Stage Chicago 3 You won’t find any of this out by watching The Franklin Expedition. Conceived and directed by Blake Montgomery, and developed and performed by David Amaral, Pamela Maurer, Chris Pomeroy, Jon Stutzman and Leah Urzendowski, the play takes a highly stylized and very self-referential view of Franklin.

"I don’t recognize myself," the character says at one point. As well he might.

All five of the performers play Franklin at different times, often several at once — sometimes in chorus — as well as his wife, his crew, Queen Victoria and a few other characters; then they step back to examine how well their differing portraits of the man worked out. At times, it seems more like a method-acting workshop than a play.

The timeline isn’t remotely chronological, slipping from Franklin on his frozen ship to his preparations for the voyage to his imaginings of his triumphant return to his funeral and around, through and back again. Stretches range from tense to solemn to humorous to outright zany.

Some parts work well: A scene in which the very expressive Stutzman, as Franklin, valiantly tries to rally his disheartened crew; a funny and highly anachronistic session in the snow; and a post-expedition meeting between the tall and hugely comic Pomoroy as Queen Victoria and the diminutive blonde Urzendowski as Franklin. Others, such as the back-patting acting critiques and an overlong scene in which Urzendowski, as the Queen, criticizes the British restraint of Amaral, as Lord Barrow, in eulogizing the lost Franklin, are less successful.

Musical interludes by the sweetly voiced Maurer, sometimes accompanied by other cast members, include some very nice folk songs, including a lovely rendition of "Lord Franklin." The multi-talented performers accompany on fiddle, guitar, keyboards, ukulele and washboard.

It’s definitely interesting, the performances are very well done and the concept of the ever-changing Franklin quite cleverly executed. Yet, overall, the play — 90 minutes without intermission — never quite seems to come together. It seems a collection of disjointed scenes. I’d really have liked to see more history and action and less theatrical navel gazing.  

In the end, despite all these players, Franklin himself is lost.

    
   
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Franklin Expedition cast - The Building Stage Chicago 2

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