Review: 6th Annual Chaos Festival (Point of Contention)

  
  

Where ten writers write ten plays actualized by ten directors

  
  

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Point of Contention Theatre presents
  
The Sixth Annual Chaos Festival
  
at Lincoln Square Theatre, 4754 N. Leavitt (map) 
through April 6  | 
tickets: $15  | more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Lovers, killers, single-cell organisms, survival is dependent on embracing the chaos.  Point of Contention Theatre Company presents The Sixth Annual Chaos Festival. Ten writers wrote ten plays actualized by ten directors.  The cluster of ten minute shows is a showcase sampling of new work.  It’s something for everyone on the all-you-can-eat-buffet.  The morsel nibbling allows for tasting a variety of a la carte offerings without getting stuck with a dissatisfying main entree.  For the curious palate, it’s a series of one bite wonders.  If it’s sweet, there is the next daily special by the actors, writer, or director to crave. If the recipe is bland, a future spicier version could bring out the flavor.

Second Helping, Please 

Three of the shows were unique, lip-smacking, gourmet surprises.  Minutiae written by Barry Eitel, is an evolutionary exploration of scientific wit.  Under the direction of Rachel Staelens, Nicci Schumacher and Rafael Torres spar in a lively, rambunctious survival of relevance.  The Four Senses of Love written by Arthur M. Jolly is a hilarious coupling of two members of a sensory-deprived support group.  Under the direction of Brandon Boler, individually and collectively, Jonathan Helvey and Lisa Cordileone sarcastically work through their affliction with no senses.  Wet Work written by Jenny Seidelman is an intriguing, comedic encounter between two very opposite men.  Under the direction of Brandon Baisden, Ray Ready plays it perky, irritant to an established, smoldering Joshua Volkers.  The odd duo captivates to an unexpected conclusion.

Can’t Make Out the Taste, But I Like it

Two of the shows aroused with a lingering aftertaste. Jib and The Big Still written by Elizabeth Birkenmeir is a guy zoning out to avoid the chaos around him.  Under the direction of Michael Wagman, David Holcombe, Jaclyn Keough, and Warren Feagins effectively use extremes in physicality to contrast angst.  Quiet Killers, written by Kristen Palmer, is teenagers musing over death and human instinct.  Under the direction of Brea Hayes, Drew Anderson, Natalie Nassar, and Eric Ryan Swanson are over-the-top morose.  It’s how the goth-set does funerals.

Had It Before, It’s Enjoyable

Three of the shows have the familiar homestyle goodness of leftovers.  The Narcoleptic Pillow Fight written by Alex Dremann is a couple fighting through bouts of hysterical, empathetic or selective narcoleptic episodes.  Under the direction of Allyson B. Baisden, Megan E. Brown and Andy Cameron heighten the amusing buffoonery of ‘narking out’.  The Rollercoaster of Love written by Joe Musso and A Play or Something Like That written by McCarry Reynolds are two delicious potato salads at the same picnic!  It’s actors playing actors working a relationship scene.  Both are interesting miniCircle Mirror Transformationbut not everybody eats potato salad.

Pass the Salt 

The final two shows are a little too bland to make it to the big meal.  A Portrait of The Artist as a Middle Age Woman written by Jerry Lieblich is a mid-life crisis without the crisis. It needs a dash of Charlie Sheen antics to make it more potent.  A fictional Latin lover (Ben Johnson or Jeff Taylor, no headshot, identify unknown) overpowers with his humorous take.  He’s hilarious but it’s like putting ketchup on eggs… all you taste is ketchup!   White Cotton written by Craig Jessen flirts with infidelity as an engaged man visits his ex-girlfriend.  The love triangle doesn’t have quite enough foreplay to make the audience care about who has the long-lasting orgasm. 

The Sixth Annual Chaos Festival is a savory smorgasbord offering. With ten opportunities to curb your theatrical craving, your hunger will be satisfied. Bon Appetite!

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

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The Sixth Annual Chaos Festival plays through April 6th at the Lincoln Square Theatre (address), with all April performances at 8pm.  Tickets are $15, and can be purchased online or by calling 773-326-3631. Running time: Two hours, which includes a ten minute intermission.

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REVIEW: The Gin Game (Lincoln Square Theatre)

 

Deal ‘em and weep

 

 

Joy Thorbjornsen-Coates and Fred Wellisch in The Gin Game

        
Lincoln Square Theatre presents
   
The Gin Game
   
Written by D.L. Coburn
Directed by Kristina Schramm
at
Lincoln Square Arts Center, 4754 N. Leavitt (map)
through November 20   |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

When people are in need of friendship they will sometimes go to great lengths to keep the friends they’ve made, even when those friendships turn sour. The Gin Game, produced by Lincoln Square Theatre, takes an interesting, although somewhat strange, turn from two people looking for companionship to an unrelenting battle of words and anger.

The set resembles a typical retirement home game room with its black and white checkerboard floor, two tables each with two chairs and a stack of games organized in a shelf. It looks as though the room is in need of updating, like something found in place before it’s been rehabbed. That needs-to-be-updated quality gives the set some character and charm.

Joy Thorbjornsen-Coates and Fred Wellisch - Lincoln Square TheatreThe Gin Game reunites Joy Thorbjornsen-Coates and Fred A. Wellisch as Fonsia Dorsey and Weller Martin. The pair was last seen performing together in Lincoln Square Theatre’s production of The Lady in the Van. It’s clear that these two actors are very comfortable with each other on stage.

The Gin Game opens on Fonsia and Weller preparing themselves in their rooms to go out into the public spaces of their retirement home. It is visitor’s day but neither has anyone there to see them. Fonsia wanders into the game room where she finds Weller alone at a table. Thorbjornsen-Coates and Wellisch are equally animated and instantly present from the moment the lights up come. As they begin to converse with each other, it becomes clear that each has made interesting and distinct character choices. Thorbjornsen-Coates’s Fonsia feels very proper and formal yet shy and nervous as she’s learning the ways of her new home. Wellisch’s Weller is rougher around the edges and more opinionated, but he’s not overly pushy about it. He seems friendly and charming enough. As I said before, these two have instant stage chemistry and it feels like old friends reuniting, even though in the show they’ve only just met. Thorbjornsen-Coates and Wellisch play well off each other, creating interesting dynamics as Weller teaches Fonsia how to play gin, the game which the entire show centers around.

As Weller and Fonsia play some friendly rounds of gin, they begin to talk about their lives. Starting with small talk at first, they discuss their previous work, their families and why they’re in a retirement home. Fonsia evidently likes to talk and the conversation provides entertainment for the both. Thorbjornsen-Coates offers a pleasant demeanor that’s hard not to like, and Wellisch seems like someone’s adorable, albeit slightly cynical, grandpa.

GinGamePR3 The action of The Gin Game flows well, which is important particularly for this production. With only two actors and a play that focuses around them playing a card game, it would certainly be easy to lose energy and cause the show to drag. Thorbjornsen-Coates and Wellisch do a terrific job of keeping the energy levels high so they scenes move quickly and keep the audience’s focus.

The more Weller and Fonsia play gin, however, it becomes clear that much more is going on below the surface. With each new hand dealt, Weller becomes more and more agitated, showing his true colors and nasty temper. Angry outbursts take the place of friendly conversation as the show quickly turns from pleasant to tense. It’s unnerving and unexpected at first when Weller just loses it, throwing cards and overturning a table. Wellisch uses this twist in character to really let loose and own Weller’s anger. Fonsia, on the other hand, becomes frightened, irritated and confused. Thorbjornsen-Coates is completely authentic in her reactions to Weller’s intensifying outbursts.

Even with all the anger and resentment building, the two continue to play out rounds of gin. As the game itself becomes more competitive, so do its players, battling each other and belittling each other. Both Thorbjornsen-Coates and Wellisch feel their character’s emotions and reactions through their whole bodies. They not only act with their words but with their body language.

For a solid performance of an intriguing work, check out Lincoln Square Theatre’s The Gin Game.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Gin Game poster - Lincoln Square Theatre

The Gin Game plays at the Lincoln Square Theatre, 4754 N. Leavitt St., through November 20. Tickets are $20 or $12 for students and seniors and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com.

   
Production Personnel  

Fred Wellisch
Actor – Weller Martin

Joy Thorbjornsen-Coates
Actor – Fonsia Dorsey

Kristina Schramm
Director

Gina Patterson
Lighting Designer

Gloria Feliciano
Stage Manager

Elayne LeTraunik
Publicity

     
     

REVIEW: On Golden Pond (Lincoln Square Theatre)

Everything but the romance on this ‘Pond’

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Lincoln Square Theatre presents
 
On Golden Pond
 
by Ernest Thompson
directed by Kristina Schramm
at
Lincoln Square Arts Center, 4754 N. Leavitt (map)
through June 12th  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

OGPpress4There’s much to admire about Lincoln Square Theatre’s tranquil, spare, and subtle rendering of Ernest Thompson’s 1978 breakout play On Golden Pond. For one, the pace of the entire production furnishes this American classic with an atmosphere of profound country quiet and ease, which colors all the interactions between its characters with a gentility long forgotten, except by the most devoted rural inhabitants.  Secondly, subtle changes in casting create a more humanizing tale of love and care between generations than one witnesses either in the 1981 Oscar-winning movie, with Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, or the 2001 live television broadcast, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Director Kristina Schramm’s direction seems determined to provide the audience with quiet emotional moments that run deep, like the soothing waters of Golden Pond itself.

Sadly, critically, what goes missing is the chemistry between its principle characters, Norman (Mark Shallow) and Ethel (Marie Goodkin) Thayer. On Golden Pond’s bedrock foundation is the life-long romance between these two contrary personalities. Norman is witty, morbid, irascible, and mischievous; Ethel is positive, energetic and outgoing–utterly stalwart in her love for Norman and embattled in her attempts to maintain his relationship between him and their daughter, Chelsea (Laura MacGregor). But, unfortunately, in Shallow and Goodkin’s hands, so much goes into expressing the differences between this rugged pair, the vital connections that keep them together almost vanish into airy nothingness.

That is a terrible misstep. For his part, Shallow shows adept grace in bringing out Norman’s most vulnerable moments. Whether in coming to terms with his progressively deteriorating memory in front of Ethel or possibly facing his last moments on earth, Shallow gives us a Norman who won’t make much ado about going into that good night. Nevertheless, he brings us to profound emotional depths with the tentativeness of Norman’s existence. Goodkin, as Ethel, could do more to bring out the nuances of living and loving a difficult creature like Norman. Her greater strength seems to be establishing Ethel’s strong emotional bonds with Chelsea or soothing the feelings of Charlie (Robert Dean), Golden Pond’s local mailman, who still carries a torch for her daughter.

OGPpress2Casting Laura MacGregor as a plump and successful Chelsea is a delightful touch—particularly when more famous productions of this play have typically chosen slender actresses for this role. Norman’s “little fat girl” is usually depicted as a woman redeemed by diets and/or exercise; but MacGregor’s Chelsea is as ample as she is—still angered by Norman’s frozen judgments of her, but capable of having love in her life all the same. MacGregor’s Chelsea is wry and self-defeating; sure of herself away from Norman, but still unsteady under his gaze. Chelsea’s new beau, Bill (Jeff Brown), is affable, direct, and credible in his ability to handle Norman’s mind games.

But perhaps the nicest touch of all is the choice of Charlie Bazzell for the role of Billy—Bill’s son by a former marriage. Other productions project Billy as a troubled kid, in need of Ethel and Norman’s redeeming care while Bill and Chelsea go off to Europe for the summer. But, thankfully, Bazzell’s Billy is just a kid being himself–without being any threat to anyone—someone with whom Norman really can have one (last?) Tom Sawyer summer. I don’t know if that makes this On Golden Pond more Norman Rockwell for most audiences—I only know that it feels much more like my own childhood growing up in rural Montana.

Much about Lincoln Square’s production is soft, sweet, and gently humanizing. If only the romance between Ethel and Norman were there, flickering with wit, beset by the scary challenges of aging—but enduring and irreproachable. The last essential scene between Ethel and Norman is genuinely effective and moving. It’s not inconceivable that this crucial element could develop and expand in the course of the run. That would not just be icing on the cake–that would be the cake that could hold everything other sweet and salty thing in it.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
 
 

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REVIEW: Wild Nights with Emily (Caffeine Theatre)

The dead lesbian’s poet society?

 

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Caffeine Theatre presents:

 

Wild Nights with Emily

by Madeleine Olnek
directed by Meghan Beals McCarthy
at Lincoln Square Arts Center, 4754 N. Leavitt
through April 11th
(more info)

review by Catey Sullivan 

Emily Dickinson: Spinster virgin in perpetually buttoned-up white, or sensual lesbian lover who let loose after dark in wild nights entwined with her sister-in-law? Wild Nights With Emily would have us believe the latter. To those who would argue it’s Dickinson’s poetry and not her sexuality that matters, we’ll point out that the title of Caffeine Theatre’s roll in the literary hay is taken directly from the Belle of Amherst herself.

emily5 The lady love Dickinson pined for when penning “Might I but moor/ To-night/in thee?”. That would be Susan Dickinson, her brother’s wife. Or so it would according to Madeleine Olnek’s curious, quirky portrait of the poet as a lesbian lover. In Wild Nights, director Meghan Beals McCarthy instills Olnek’s time-tripping tale with the playfulness this 90-minute romp demands.

But while Caffeine’s literary production is as fun as flirting, it falters in one significant aspect, and that is in the person of Emily herself. Reciting passages of longing and frustration and ecstasy from Dickinson’s body of beautiful work, Jessica Bennett’s Emily is more slouching, angsty, over-dramatic adolescent than anguished mature woman.

According to firebrand (or lightning rod, depending on who you talk to) feminist scholar Camille Paglia, Dickinson’s brutality “would stop a truck.” You’d never know to watch this version of Emily. Here, the poet is skittish, fragile, birdlike and childlike in a portrayal that doesn’t hint at the strength within a lioness of arts and letters.

Yet despite that flaw – and since Dickinson is the focus of the piece, it is not inconsequential – Wild Nights is a winning endeavor. There’s a delicious humor to be found as cartoon academics peer down their weighty spectacles into pronouncements such as “We cannot say whether Emily Dickinson was gay any more than we can conjecture that Ben Franklin would have chosen a car with airbags.”

With her ensemble bending gender portraying Dickinson’s contemporaries as well as a parade of posthumous editors, biographers, and tourists (the last tramping through various Dickinson exhibits with amusing degrees of enthusiasm), McCarthy keeps the pace spritely and the visuals vivid.

Wild Nights is a crazy quilt of times and places, bouncing between imagined scenes from Dickinson’s life (and death) and contemporary declarations about the poet’s life. Liberal sprinklings of irreverence (including one memorable wherein an earnest speaker during Mount Holyoke Parents Weekend assures the assemblage that one or two or even three “homosexual” encounters does not a lesbian undergrad make) ensure that this pseudo-biography of Dickinson never gets fusty.

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As Emily and Susan (Dana Black, hold that thought for just a moment please) rapturously discover oral sex, as Susan’s husband (Ian Novak) splutters angrily about insinuating secrets discovered folded among his wife’s “underthings,” as whist games play out and formal dances twirl about, the hidden life of Emily Dickinson unfurls as a colorful collage of eccentricity seemingly at odds with the deliberate, controlled beauty of her writing.

With the exception of Emily and Susan, McCarthy has the cast playing with the broadness of caricatures – which is wholly appropriate given the intermittent over-the-top bubbles of lunacy Olnek instills into many of her scenes. Novak, long one of the Off-Loop’s curiously unsung talents, makes great comic hay as prototypically saucy Irish maid and – more significantly – as Susie’s increasingly suspicious and snappish husband. As Emily’s biographer, Amanda Hartley is a primly outrageous, scissor-happy villainess.

Then there’s Susan, the most complex and intriguing person in this story thanks to Black’s deceptively gentle performance. She’s the quintessential still water running fathoms deep, richly contemplative one moment, smoothly calculating the next, head-over-heels-fall-down-crazy-in-love the next.

The core problem with the performance? It’s difficult to imagine this woman infatuated with the pretty but superficial snip we’re given as Dickinson.

Samantha Umstead and Alarie Hammock’s gorgeous and lavishly detailed costumes add a layer of lush visual beauty to the production and an intriguing contrast to the minimalist velvet drapes and framed poetry fragments of Stephen H. Carmody’s simple, effective set design.

The secret life of Emily Dickinson may forever remain just that. Even so, there’s intrigue in speculating what may have gone on between the lines.

 

Rating: ★★½

 

Wild Nights With Emily continues through April 11 in the Berry Methodist Church (Lincoln Square Arts Center), 4754 N. Leavitt. Tickets are $15 – $20. More information is available buy going to www.caffeinetheatre.com

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