Review: Sinbad, The Untold Story (Adventure Stage Chicago)

  
  

Update on a classic adventure fantasy takes off, but not high

  
  

(l to r) Edgar Sanchez, Mildred Langford, Dana Dajani. Photo by Johnny Knight.

  
Adventure Stage presents
   
Sinbad: The Untold Story
   
Written by Charles Way
Directed by Amanda Delheimer
at Vittum Theater , 1012 N. Noble (map)
through April 16  |  tickets: $12-$17  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

How relieving, I thought while sitting amongst the kids and pre-teens at Adventure Stage’s Saturday matinee, to hear the words “Baghdad” and “Koran” outside of a contentious context. The children who will see Sinbad: The Untold Tale are part of a generation who’ve never experienced America before its frighteningly mainstream Islamophobic discourse, before every televised use of the phrase “Muslim” was intrinsically linked to controversy and heated debate. Charles Way’s 2006 play, on the other hand, is about as amenable as it gets: a quest story promoting courage and nobility–values that are universal with characters that are relatable.

The intent, as well as the production’s partnership with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, is commendable; the execution is so-so.

Edgar Miguel Sanchez and Mike Ooi (koken) - photo Johnny KnightWay’s tale takes place in the years after Sinbad the Sailor’s epic journeys in “1001 Arabian Nights,” after the adventurer has wrapped up his seventh voyage at sea and called it quits. Retirement doesn’t end the world’s conquests, though, so when a witch plagues his city with a haze that in short-time will kill all adults (“Gas-s-s-s!,” anyone?), the tired and afflicted sailor transfers the hero role to his eager orphan porter (Edgar Miguel Sanchez, physically-grounded and affable as the young lead, alongside Dana Dajani as his travel partner Ittifaq).

From thereon, there aren’t many divergences from the tried-and-true action-for-kids plot. The porter is handed a box containing three items to use in times of peril, a girl sets out to prove herself by tagging along, saving him and becoming a love interest along the way, clever quips abound, etc. etc. It’s all very familiar and sustainable. But assuming the young audiences are not familiar with the original Sinbad stories, they’ll likely trip over a few recurring points. They may ask themselves, “who is that old man that keeps talking about adventures that sound more interesting? Who is Ittifaq’s mom, and why should I care?”

The action works from time to time. David Chrzanowski’s fight choreography infuses some video-game-type elements that, at the performance I attended, garnered lots of positive verbal reaction from the kids and least one audible “that’s cooool!” from a little girl behind me. Others fall comically short, like an attempt at a flying carpet that left two actors’ feet visible under their stuffed faux-legs. Not yet versed in polite restraint, many of the children outwardly giggled during a moment clearly aiming for a different response.

Sinbad: The Untold Tale could easily shave off 15 minutes, and its desired audience is a little ambiguous. As a journey tale, it meets the bar–but it isn’t magic.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
   
  

Sinbad the Untold Story. Photo by Johnny Knight

Sinbad: The Untold Story continues through April 16th, with 10:30am performances March 22, 24 and 31; April 5, 7, 8, 12, 14 and 15.  Family matinee 2pm performances continue April 2, 9 and 16, with a special evening performance April 8th at 7pm. Tickets are not available online.  Instead, call 773.342.4141.

  
  

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REVIEW: Cherry Smoke (side project theatre)

   
  

Strong performances evolve from uneven play

  
  

Bug and Duffy almost kiss

  
The side project theatre presents
 
Cherry Smoke  
  
Written by James McManus
Directed
Lavina Jadhwani
at
side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through Dec 19  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

So much about James McManus’ play Cherry Smoke appalls the senses. The poverty, the violence, the paucity of adult care or concern about these dead-end kids who have no means, no education, and therefore no future. Playing now at the side project in Rogers Park under the direction of Lavina Jadhwani, their story seems foreign, like something out of a third-world country. But no, these are our slumdog millionaires—only there will be no millions to save these kids from their downward spiral.

Fish and Cherry - end exhaleMcManus bases his drama upon his own childhood experiences in Donora, PA. In an interview with Adam Szymkowicz, McManus recalls, “Our area was ravaged by poverty and many were not able to take advantage of even a primary education because of worsening family situations.” Donora, which also holds the dubious record of worst ecological disaster in US history, is a broken relic of the Rust Belt, so poor its only McDonald’s closed because people could no longer afford to eat there once the mill closed.

“But even in the ignorance, there was a beauty in both the language and the dreams,” says McManus. Even with little else, what the characters in Cherry Smoke have language and dreams. In their words we find a brutal kind of American primitive dialect.

At age 9, his father forces Fish (Dan Toot) into the fighting ring, thrown in to sink or swim against the punches of an older boy. His savage victory sets both his back alley fighting career and his psychology in a perpetual iron state of rage. He cannot shake his warlike disposition against any guy who looks at him or against life itself. When Fish roars, “It’s all nothing,” Dan Toot precisely captures nihilism carried out with the force of a dynamo. That Toot physically never lets up in a one hour, 40 minute performance is an achievement in sheer stamina, but he also knows how to sculpt nuances into Fish’s unending enmity against his life.

Only Cherry, who tells fortunes and sleeps in a car in the winter or down by the river in summertime, can understand, love, and tame him—but only to a degree. Incapable of controlling the rage that builds his fighting success, Fish perennially ends up in juvie, then in jail. Separation from Fish leaves Cherry to fall back into nervous depression—ending up as an invalid in the care of Bug (Jessica London-Shields) and Fish’s brother, Duffy (Peter Oyloe). While not Bonny and Clyde, McManus succeeds in crafting a legendary, impossible couple in Fish and Cherry and their almost magical relationship.

That’s not to say the play does not contain serious flaws. The plot is hampered by boxing clichés–the fighter needing to get out of the game but desperately going for one last fight. In fact, Fish’s final fight simply falls apart dramatically, with Fish going into flashbacks about his first forced encounter in the ring. Likewise, the birth of Fish and Cherry’s first born also veers into melodramatic overreach.

Cherry Smoke promoLondon-Shields gives an instinctive and delicate performance as the nervous, shy and unassuming Bug. Peter Oyloe’s performance as Duffy, though, almost washes out beside his bigger, badder brother. A scene in which Duffy is almost ready to kill Fish for breaking his hand restores stronger dramatic tension in Duffy’s psychological make-up.

Cherry Smoke jumps around and needs a serious rewrite to produce a much tighter play. I doubt you could get a clearer wake up call about the impoverishment of America’s Rust Belt youth.

  
 
Rating: ★★
  
  

 

Production Personnel

Cast

Jessica London-Shields, Peter Oyloe, Emily Shain, and Dan Toot

Creative/Production Team

Scott Butler (Dialects), Jesse Gaffney (Props), Sarah Gilmore (Sound), Meg Lindsey (Management), Michelle Milne (Movement), Rachel Sypniewski (Costumes), and Sally Weiss (Set/Lights)

     
     

REVIEW: Peter Pan (Theatre-Hikes)

 

A fun time for all in Never Never Land

 

 Peter and Hook Fight A

   
Theatre-Hikes presents
   
Peter Pan
   
Written by J.M Barrie
Directed by
Lavina Jadhwani
at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL  (map)
through August 29th  |  tickets: $8-$19  |  more info

reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Wandering through the paths of the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL, a boy suddenly emerges from behind the trees, crowing and dancing around with his shadow. A proper young girl sits with her brothers as they listen to their mother’s stories. Pirates run through the grass in search of the boy who can fly. Produced by Theatre-Hikes, this outdoor production of Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, the beloved children’s story by J.M. Barrie, takes the notion of Never Never Land to a new level.

The DarlingsPeter Pan opens on the Darling family. Mr. and Mrs. Darling are getting ready for a night out while the family dog, Nana takes care of the children, Wendy, Michael and John. After the children are fast asleep, Peter Pan enters their room to retrieve his lost shadow. Waking Wendy with his crying, she sews Peter’s shadow back on for him and in return he teaches the Darling children to fly.

The arboretum provides a stellar background for Peter Pan. After starting in the pavilion transformed into the Darling house, the audience literally travels with Peter past the second star to the right and straight on to Never Never Land. While walking from scene to scene, the audience becomes involved in the production, creating additional atmosphere and heightening the magic that’s occurring. All the arboretum’s a stage – a stage to be used at the actors’ disposal as Peter flits and flies around, the lost boys rally and Wendy puts them all to bed under the sky.

With such a huge performance space, the acting must really stand out, and for the most part it does. Peter Pan (Kaelan Strouse) is youthful, vibrant and full of energy. The moment Strouse enters, his child-like enthusiasm becomes infectious, connecting him to both his fellow actors and the audience. Although Strouse takes his acting a bit too over-the-top at times, he has a clear sense of character and knows exactly who Peter is.

Back in Never Never Land, Peter introduces Wendy to the lost boys and she becomes their honorary mother. Wendy (Allison Schaffer) is adorably naïve and Schaffer’s potrayal of a little girl trying to mother unruly little boys is quality work. She could take her characterization farther at a few points, but overall she’s strong in her conflict between missing her parents and leaving Peter. Kylie Edmonds stands out as Slightly, one of the lost boys. Her performance feels genuine and it’s clear she has put in the effort to figure out her character’s back story, allowing Edmonds to step out at a higher level than the rest of the group. The cast is rounded out by Ellenkate Finley as Tootles and Anne Sears as Curly.

Lost Boys, Smee and Hook

It’s not all fun and games in Never Never Land with pirates prowling about. Captain Hook (Andrew Pond) is Peter Pan’s rival, and has made it his mission to capture and kill the boy. Pond’s portrayal of Hook is more jovial than it is menacing. And while this is children’s theatre and Hook can’t be overly scary, there’s not enough differentiation between his character as Hook and his character as Mr. Darling. (Traditionally, the same actor is cast in both roles). Because of this, Hook isn’t as believable as other characters. Pond does, however, have a way with a sword, and the fight choreography by Dwight Sora following Hook’s capture of Wendy and the lost boys is thrilling to watch.

Hook’s first mate Smee (Zach Bloomfield) successfully offers well-timed comic relief. Playing both the parts of Smee and Nana, Bloomfield hilariously delivers his lines (even the ones he barked) and keeps the tone light and the audience entertained.

For all that’s good about this show, the costuming by Sarah Haley lacks. The choices are understandable and suit the characters, but some garments look more like homemade Halloween costumes than costumes for a professional theatre production.

Overall, the actors do well against the many opposing elements created by an outdoor space. Fighting the rain and bugs, they adapt to a full pavilion staging, they speak up and enunciate against a strong breeze and they play off the smaller children in the audience who yell things out during the performance. Because there’s no backstage, Peter Pan becomes interactive at points, allowing the kids in the audience to get a special experience by letting them speak and play with the actors during scene changes. Peter Pan is a fun show for people of any age with its lively energy that flows well, and the two to two-and-a-half hours of performance fly by as fast as Peter Pan himself. (FYI: Don’t forget your bug spray!)

 

  
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

The Morton Arboretum is located at 4100 Lincoln Ave., Lisle IL and Theatre Hikes begins at the Thornhill Center on the west side of the arboretum. Peter Pan runs Saturday and Sunday through August 29 at 1:00 pm. Tickets are $12 (arboretum members) or $19 (non-members) adults, and $8 (members) $13 (non-members) for children. Note: Sunday shows are low-impact hikes designed for strollers and/or wheelchairs, with the hike going less than one mile.  (FYI: Don’t forget your bug spray!)

Peter and Audience

 

 

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REVIEW: Steel Magnolias (Hubris Productions)

Hubris production could use a touch-up

steel magnolias_004 

   
Hubris Productions present
  
Steel Magnolias
   
Written by Robert Harling
Directed by
Lavina Jadhwani
At
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
Through July 31  | 
tickets: $25  | more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

steel magnolias_005The 1989 film version of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias is one of the definitive chick flicks of all time: empowering, hilarious, emotionally devastating, and featuring one of the best female ensembles ever assembled on screen. Harling’s characters are southern women bursting at the seams with charisma, and they require the  larger-than-life personalities of a Dolly Parton or Shirley Maclaine to make their struggles spectacular. Directed by Lavina Jadhwani, the actors of Hubris’s Steel Magnolias lack the energy that makes these characters enthralling, resulting in a plodding production that never makes it to the emotional heights that the script has become known for.

Harling’s play depicts the key moments of diabetic Shelby’s (Sara Pavlak) adulthood – her wedding, pregnancy, motherhood, etc. – and how these events affect her mother M’Lynn (Stephanie Wooten-Austin) and other women of Chinquapin, Louisiana: salon owner Truvy (Calidonia Olivares), sardonic widow Clairee (Sharon Roseri), eccentric curmudgeon Ouiser (Lorraine Freund), and new girl Annelle (Jessica Maynard). In Truvy’s salon, these six women argue about wedding colors, gossip about local ladies, and experience the occasional breakdown in an environment free of testosterone. On paper, the generations-spanning assortment of personalities should be quite entertaining, but the potential of the characters isn’t reached by the ensemble.

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From the very opening scene it is obvious that Steel Magnolias needs a lot of fine-tuning: the actors stumble over lines, the comedy revolves too heavily on gags (Annelle drops things! A lot!), and Truvy’s hair is way too flat. That last one is just mind-boggling, as big hair should be at the top of any designer’s checklist for this show. As the production continues, the lack of chemistry between the actors makes it apparent that there is still much character work to be done, starting with a much needed jolt of electricity to the dull performances.

   
   
Rating:★★
   
   

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REVIEW: Yoni Ki Baat (Rasaka Theatre)

Serious but Scattershot, this year’s Yoni Ki Baat
Takes on weightier subjects

yoni1

Rasaka Theatre presents

Yoni Ki Baat

 

Judging from last year’s press, Yoni Ki Baat must have been a light and sexy laugh fest. Even local contributing writers Angeli Primiani and Anita Chandwaney remarked on the more serious tone of Rasaka Theatre’s remount this year at Strawdog Theatre. “It’s not an angry show,” says Chandwaney, “some pieces are racier than last year. But this year there are angrier, more political monologues . . . more socially conscious.”

“The show is a little misleading,” she adds. “People really don’t know how radical it is. On one level there are all the jokes about sex, which the general audience can really enjoy. But the risk is in having South Asian American women talking about clits, rape, domestic violence.”

yoni3 Yoni Ki Baat, running through January 31, is inspired by Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, although its content is created by and for desi women and is open to continual change. Playwrights all over the world submit monologues to the global pool of work, so that each production varies from city to city, year to year. Rasaka’s current production boasts five local writers’ original work.

While a boon to a segment of women’s culture that receives scarce representation, this year’s Yoni Ki Baat suffers from all the usual pitfalls of “rebranding”. Monologues such as “Bollywood Breasts,” “Apple Pie,” “Can I Eat You First?” and “The Inevitable Rise” continue to make light and humorous the dilemmas South Asian American women face straddling multicultural responses to sexuality and women’s bodies. But it is its mix with heavier material that tends to scatter focus, which tends to result in a production suffering from comoedia interruptus.

Plus, there’s just as much danger dealing in heavier material with too light a touch. Monologues “Helpline” and “On-track” address absolute violations of women’s liberty: the first deals with a woman being forced into an abortion by her family because her fetus is a girl; the second explores the dangerous environment for women in Nepal because of sex trafficking. A little more rage, not less, might have better served these pieces but it seems instead that punches have been pulled.

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That’s unfortunate—first, because most of the performances given by the cast are warm, earthy, and accessible and provide an immediate, genuine connection with the audience. Secondly, it does seem that advantages for desi women in the West still overwhelmingly surpass what desi women can hope for back in the old country.

“Oh, yes, sex selection of children still goes on,” says Chandwaney. “It’s outlawed but ultra sound is available. Then you have those religious extremist Hindus who were attacking women for socializing in bars. They were subjected to The Pink Chaddi Project, where people sent them pink underwear in protest for their harassment. There are times—comparing my life here to theirs—I’m starting to feel like ‘there but for the grace of God’ . . .”

“I used to think that I was such a rebel,” says Angeli Primiani, “but my mother was the real rebel of our family. She was the first in the family to have her marriage be a love match. Her parents kept trying to force her into an arranged marriage. She would just show up to meetings with the potential groom in old, unattractive saris . . . no make-up . . . hair messy. They finally gave up on her so she could marry who she wanted.”

Rating: ★★½

 

 

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above pictures from 2009 production

 

ADDENDUM:   a portion of proceeds from this show will go to Apna Ghar (Our Home), an organization that provides culturally appropriate services to survivors of domestic violence, including multilingual services and emergency shelter..  Apnar Ghar‘s focuses primarily on South Asian women and other immigrant communities,

 

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