REVIEW: State of the Union (Strawdog Theatre)

 

An intriguing political chess game

 

 Strawdog Theatre - State of the Union - 10/6/10 

Photo by Chris Ocken 
Copyright 2010 - www.ockenphotography.com

   
Strawdog Theatre presents
   
State of the Union
   
Written by Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay
Directed by
Geoff Button
at Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway (map)
through November 13  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

For a political play to matter much, it must prove its relevance beyond its genesis. These dramas must rise above the particulars of their time-sensitive plots and reveal to us a greater truth, something about the human condition or the faults of our society. State of the Union, the 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy, is an example of this brilliant kind of evergreen political theatre.

Written by Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay, the play may be rooted in mid-20th century politics, but its tale of political gaming and pandering is as true today as it ever was then. And infused with the talent of the Strawdog Theatre Company, State of the Union manages to not only serve as editorial but as a charmingly funny piece of theatre.

Strawdog Theatre - State of the Union - 10/6/10 

Photo by Chris Ocken 
Copyright 2010 - www.ockenphotography.com The play centers around political outsider and businessman Grant Matthews (Michael Dailey). Republican political insiders are priming him to be the dark horse candidate in the upcoming presidential election. This includes Kay Thorndyke (Kristina Johnson), a Republican newspaper editor and not-so-secret mistress to Matthews.

Yet, Matthews gives the political bigwigs reason for hesitation when he hits the speaker circuit where he talks about timely issues from his heart rather than from any party’s platform. Much of this honesty is delivered at the behest of his wife, Mary (Kendra Thulin), who like her husband is an idealist. She believes that politicians serve their own self-interest rather than the interests of the people, and upon finding out that her husband may be running for the presidency, she pushes him to stick to his populist convictions.

Unfortunately, playing politics is a dirty game. As we get a peak behind the political curtain, we see just how much strategizing, manipulating and palm greasing actually takes place. This puts Grant in quite the pickle, pitting him against his party, his ideals, his mistress and his wife.

Although I’ve never been a politician, I can confidently say that State of the Union doesn’t seem to be too far from the truth. Look at modern-day outsider candidates like Nevada’s Sharron Angle and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, who, once receiving their party’s nomination, were quick to start spewing the same Republican talking points. The only difference is that Grant is a likeable and intelligent candidate, whereas his real-life counterparts are divisive and seemingly simple.

Strawdog Theatre - State of the Union - 10/6/10 

Photo by Chris Ocken 
Copyright 2010 - www.ockenphotography.com Strawdog has assembled an amazing cast. Dailey portrays grant as a sympathetic idealist. The kindness and sincerity he brings to the role helps us identify with him despite the fact that he’s a flawed husband. Likewise, Thulin provides Mary with a boldness that makes her a believably powerful force against the chummy, political insider boys’ club. Other standout performances include BF Helman as political strategist Jim Conover and Anderson Lawfer as the sassy journalist/campaign manager Spike MacManus.

Geoff Button’s direction is commendable, especially given the sheer number of entrances and exits he has to manage throughout the play, especially in the third act, which is one of those party scenes that literally fills the room with colorful characters.

If the upcoming elections have you tiring of the theatre of politics, then why not check out some insightful political theatre? Along with voting, go see Strawdog’s snappy and relevant production of State of the Union.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Strawdog Theatre - State of the Union - 10/6/10 

Photo by Chris Ocken 
Copyright 2010 - www.ockenphotography.com

   
   

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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

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