Review: The Master and Margarita (Strawdog Theatre)

  
  

Strawdog explores intersection of religion, magic, insanity – and actors

  
  

(From L to R): Kyle Gibson (Ivan), Tom Hickey (Woland) and Rob Thomas (Berlioz) in Strawdog's "The Master and Margarita". 
Photo by Chris Ocken

  
Strawdog Theatre presents
  
The Master and Margarita
   
Adapted by Edward Kemp
Based on novel by
Mikhail Bulgakov
Directed by
Louis Contey
at
Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway (map)
through April 2  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

As artistic differences threaten the theatrical production of Pontius Pilate, Satan arrives in town to set the record straight. Strawdog Theatre presents The Master and Margarita. In anti-religion Moscow, a writer works feverishly to create a masterpiece play. His girlfriend Margarita believes he is ‘The Master’ and is willing to do anything to support his writing. The government’s theatrical department interferes with his show. They want to ensure Pontius Pilate discredits Jesus’ existence. Satan and his cronies visit for a little civilization observation. They also want to get their magic show on the stage. Arrested, committed, beheaded, the poor souls of Russia are in chaos. When Satan sheds insight into mortals’ psyches, the balance of life has a peaceful neutralization. The Master and Margarita blurs the division between magic and religion, imagination and psychoses, theatrical and actual, life and death.

Dennis Grimes (Master) and Justine C. Turner (Margarita) in Strawdog's 'The Master and Margarita'. Photo by Chris Ocken.Is it a play about a play about the historical decision maker Pontius Pilate? Or is it the full blown hallucination from an asylum inmate? Is it pro-religion or just anti- being anti? The Master and Margarita is for certain an epic of biblical portions. On a primarily stark set, crowd scenes are choreographed using cast as colorful and changing scenery. The large ensemble is white-faced (make-up designer Aly Renee Amidei) and sometimes black-masked. (Special nod to Amidei for the Centurion’s makeup: I was transfixed.) The mass unified look effectively emphasizes the alternating mood from theatrical to threatening to comical to spooky. Costume designer Joanna Melville goes hellish, dressing up an underworld ball in goth prom attire. The vibrant swirl of activity is non-stop. Under the direction of Louis Contey, the multiple themes and scene transitions flow smoothly and briskly into the next.

A plethora of Russian names, myriad of actors playing numerous roles, and the whitening effect add to a quandary of identification. Among the easily recognized, the damned bunch are hilarious misfits. Tom Hickey (Woland aka Satan) leads with smug wisdom and a surprising twisted kindness. Anderson Lawfer (Behemoth) is hysterical as a talking cat. Without even that many lines, Lawfer drawls the funny out with a bow tie without pants comment. Double-vision, Danny Taylor (Fagott) has a comedic and mysterious allure. Anita Deely (Azazello) is the non-nonsense assistant from hell. As the enduring lovers, Dennis Grimes (The Master) is a gentle martyr-type and Justine Turner (Margarita) is his strong lovely rescuer. The entire ensemble are convincing as actors playing theatre types, actors playing crazies or actors playing people going to hell… or maybe there isn’t a distinction.

The first act is a bubbling manifesto of intriguing confusion. The intermission is a pause from the frenzy to admit uncertainty to the point of the show. At some point in act two, there is an ‘A-ha moment.‘ All the dots connect for art open to interpretation. To sum it up, the cat said it best in one of the final scenes, ‘now, I get this play!’ What the cat said!

     
     
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Guests at the Ball of the Damned, a scene from "The Master and Margarita". Photo by Chris Ocken

The Master and Margarita continues through April 2nd, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 4pm. There is no performanceSunday, April 3. Tickets are $20 with group, senior and student discounts available. Tickets may be ordered by calling 773.528.9696 or by visiting www.strawdog.org.

Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes with a ten minute intermission

     
     

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REVIEW: Red Noses (Strawdog Theatre)

Laughing in the face nose of the Black Plague

 

Strawdog Theatre Red Noses Remount 2

   
Strawdog Theatre presents
  
RED NOSES
   
Written by Peter Barnes
Directed by Matt Hawkins
at Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway (map)
through August 15th |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Strawdog Theatre Red Noses Remount 1 ‘It’s easy to find someone to share your life with. What about someone to share your death?’  Serious contemplations about the fragility of life get a laugh with the addition of a clown prosthetic.  Strawdog Theatre presents the remount of its successful 2009 production RED NOSES.  14th Century Europe is being plagued with death.  The dying is reaching epidemic proportions.  The survivors are targets for flagellant crazed religious types and victim-hunting scavengers.  From this hopeless void, a joyful priest recruits individuals to fight death with humor.  He forms a traveling troupe of performers to ‘ripple and spread’ amusement across the grieving countryside.   Strawdog’s RED NOSES explores the humorous side of the Black Plague by adding a clown-car-filled cast, jamming it to eighties music and letting death urinate on the wall.

The show starts playfully with a game of toss.  Death arrives with a neon yellow ball. The game becomes deadly.  Victims spew out neon yellow barf.  Game over!  The dying has begun.   Death doesn’t keep anyone down for long.  Zombies rise, dance and sing “Only the Good Die Young.” 

Under the direction of Matt Hawkins, the twenty-three cast members are lively, moving from scene to scene and role to role.  They juggle balls, play instruments, and remove spittle as a tight working ensemble.   It’s all about finding the comedic moment and putting a red nose on it.  Shannon Hoag (Marguerite) is hilarious as the disappointed almost-raped nun.  She belts out a wonderful rendition of “I don’t want to lose your love tonight.”  Sarah Goeden (Bells) and Chelsea Paice (Tricycle Clown Messenger) without a word effectively amuse and communicate with ringing and expressive faces.  Michael E. Smith (Pope) delivers a humorous line and attitude with ‘I don’t have to be wise just decisive.’  It’s the small touches that change dire to funny.  Two amputees do a stub version of a high five.  A blind man calls out a color.  
Death gets his cloak caught in his suitcase.  Cause of death?  Talented cast injects shots of fatal humor.  

Strawdog Theatre Red Noses Remount 3 

‘If there is life after death, why do we have to die?’ Playwright Peter Barnes penned a tale about laughing in the face of death.  To exploit the absurd, he set it in a plague killing era and added clown noses.  The script could go “Patch Adams” cute as one man’s quest to bring joy to the infirmed.  Strawdog wisely chooses a “Monty Python” approach with comedy influenced by pushing the funny aspect of sensitive content.  Barnes’ play has a propensity to go long and tedious with some productions exceeding a three hour running time.  Even with Mike Przygoda (Music Director) orchestrating the 80’s flashback with a high-energy, live soundtrack, the second act gets a little tiresome with death-defying religious undercurrents. Still, “You gotta have faith!” Strawdog’s RED NOSES is plagued with comedy for whatever ails you! 

 

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Strawdog Theatre Red Noses Remount 4

Running Time:  Two hours and twenty minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission

  
   

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Review – "Portrait of Dorian Gray" at Lifeline Theatre

Reviewed by Jackie Ingram

Lifeline Theatre has proven once again, “bigger is not always better.” Their small theatre has truly captured the essence of Oscar Wilde’s play with creativity, wonderful acting, and a skillfully used two-tier set that is amazing. Through the help of Basil Hailworth, Lord Henry Wotton, Alan Campbell, and the beautiful, Sibyl Vane, the play begins with all sharing their amorous feelings for the handsomely young Dorian Gray, convincingly played by Nick Vidal.

Dorian 187 LR Following the introductions, we see Basil Hailworth presenting the finished picture to Dorian who, after viewing it, falls in love with his own image. Dorian vows to sell his soul for eternal youth if only his picture would not age himself. The role of Dorian Gray might have been a daunting task for Nick Vidal and very one-dimensional, but under the great direction of Kevin Theis, you see the evil that is beginning to spew and creep out of Dorian’s face and behavior.

The ten-cast ensemble is excellent. By taking chances, the ensemble shares and entertains us with great fortitude. Don Bender, as the elder Basil, is strong and yet – when Dorian is present – converts into the shy, rambling and insecure young Basil, played by Aaron Snook. The work of these two agile performers is truly amazing. Unlike Basil, the young Lord Henry, played by Paul S. Holmquist, manipulates his way into Dorian’s life by teasing him with his biting sense of humor. The young Lord Henry is self-assured, funny, and not ashamed to voice his opinion. As the years pass, the influence of Dorian Gray seeps in, and the elder Lord Henry, played by Sean Sinitski, becomes a darker, more demure, and his biting sense of humor seems to fade. One must not forget the Sibyl Vane played by the beautiful Melissa Nedell: she commands the stage and charms our hearts with the love she holds for Dorian Gray. We see Kyle A. Gibson and John Ferrick as the younger and elder Alan Campbell. Mr. Campbell’s love never changes and he never stops wishing that one day Dorian would feel the same. We find out later that there is nothing Alan will not do for Dorian Gray. Adam Breske and David Skvaria as James Vane, younger and elder brother of Sibyl Vane, are equally scary and fantastic to watch. Whenever on stage, you can feel their anger. The entire cast and their secondary roles are truly brilliant, working as a fine-tuned machine.

Dorian Gray Twists and turns are abundant in Robert Kauzlaric’s adaptation of Portrait of Dorian Gray – and they will keep you focused on the action throughout.  Indeed, one scene even scared me! (and I don’t scare easy – though my grandkids might say otherwise!). Unfortunately I am not going to let you know what this scene is – you’ll have to see it for yourself!

But there is a haunting line in the show that I will share, “Love is truly mankind’s greatest tragedy.” What do you think? Go to the show and find out.

As a side note – I had the pleasure of speaking to a retired woman in the audience named Ms. Phyllis Trowbridge, who was friendly yet quirky, much like the gentrifying Rogers Park neighborhood surrounding the theatre.  Phyllis relayed to me that she had gone to a number of shows at Lifeline and, to quote her, “ I have not seen any bad shows here.”  I certainly must agree with Phyllis, and encourage all to support this theatrical treasure.

If you enjoy reading the works of Oscar Wilde (and even if you don’t) then this is the play for you. The Picture of Dorian Gray, showing at the Lifeline Theatre, runs through November 2nd.

Rating: ««««

 

 Dorian 1 LR