Review: A Lesson Before Dying (Lincoln Square Theatre)

  
  

Stark simplicity amplifies Lincoln Squares’ Lesson

  
  

David Lawrence Hamilton and Barth Bennett (Jefferson) in Lincoln Square Theatre's "A Lesson Before Dying", by Romulus Linney

  
Lincoln Square Theatre presents
   
   
A Lesson Before Dying
   
Written by Romulus Linney
Directed by Kristina Schramm
at Lincoln Square Theatre, 4754 N. Lincoln (map)
through June 11  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

To call Lincoln Square Theatre’s A Lesson Before Dying rudimentary would be the understatement of the year. The production values of the set design by director Kristina Schramm may be low, its look stark and rough around the edges. That, however, works in the production’s favor at critical moments—evoking dark poetry about a young black man sentenced to die in the electric chair for a crime he did not commit. The meat and potatoes of Lincoln Square’s offering lies in the excellent characterizations of its little known cast, some of whom make their Chicago debut David Lawrence and Elana Elyce in Lincoln Square Theatre's "A Lesson Before Dying"with this production. Hence, their cumulative efforts can be considered a small diamond gleaming in an unexpected spot. Go to witness the resilient, earthy, intelligent and vital performances that fill the church basement space Lincoln Square Theatre calls home.

Set in the pre-Civil Rights Era South, Miss Emma (vividly played by Mary Helena) wants the local schoolteacher Grant Wiggins (David Lawrence Hamilton) to intervene with her grandson Jefferson (Barth Bennett), who has just been sentenced to death for the murder of a white grocery store owner. At one point in his trial, Jefferson’s lawyer had argued that one might as well execute a hog as execute his client—from that point Jefferson only thinks of himself as a hog. Miss Emma hopes that the schoolteacher can speak to Jefferson and raise him up to believe in himself again as a man, so that he can die with dignity.

But Wiggins himself is a man burnt out on the futility of teaching in the rural South. The shack that stands for the schoolhouse he teaches in doesn’t have enough chalk to last through the year. His students spend more time playing with bugs than reading the old, used and worn out textbooks donated to them from white schools. His perspective on the impact he can make under such conditions has degenerated to impotent and sour cynicism. “Vivian, I’m dead here,” he tells his girlfriend, also a schoolteacher. But Vivian Baptiste (in a fresh and driven performance by Elana Elyce) pushes Wiggins to help Jefferson. Due to going through a divorce herself, Vivian cannot be sure of Wiggins, if he turns out to be someone people can’t depend upon—“Decent men back out. Decent men give up. Decent men change the rules.”

     
A scene from Lincoln Square Theatre's "A Lesson Before Dying", by Romulus Linney A scene from Lincoln Square Theatre's "A Lesson Before Dying", by Romulus Linney

The power of Wiggin’s story lies in the pressures upon him to be more than what he is – which he may be swayed by, but never really yields to. Romulus Linney’s adaptation of the novel by Earnest J. Gaines preserves Wiggins as a man filled with doubts, able to use only the most meager pedagogical tools at his disposal to draw Jefferson out. Vivian seems, at times, to want him to be a superman. The Rev. Ambrose (resonantly played by Rudolf D. Munro, III) definitely dislikes Wiggins’ secular leanings dominating Jefferson’s recovery and wishes there would be more God-talk involved in his redemption. But it’s the halting and uncertain nature of the schoolteacher’s mentality that allows him to be influenced by the person who matters most—the condemned man himself.

At the beginning, both Hamilton and Bennett’s play their characters too tight and shut down to allow for much emotional play. But both actors blossom into their roles organically—evincing profound, confrontational and revelatory moments the closer Jefferson comes to his day of execution. Flanked by the manipulative Sheriff Guidry (Ed Schultz) and the sympathetic Deputy Paul Bonin (Jereme Rhodes), Jefferson’s ability to recover himself and face his undeserved death becomes more about the transformation of a community than just his personal ordeal. Lincoln Square Theatre renders a poignant and profound drama on the value of human life that is more than worth the effort to seek it out.

     
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

The cast of Lincoln Square Theatre's "A Lesson Before Dying", by Romulus Linney

Dates/Times: Continues thru June 11, with performances Fridays at 8pm and Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm.

Tickets: $20 ($12 students & seniors)
Purchase:
credit card via Brown Paper Tickets; cash and check at door;
Reservations:
773-275-7930; Location: 4754 N. Leavitt St. Chicago (map)

  
  

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

  
  

Where ten writers write ten plays actualized by ten directors

  
  

chaos festival 6th annual poster big

  
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: ★★★
  
  

chaos festival 6th annual poster big

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

     
     

Theater Thursday: The Last Daughter of Oedipus at BWB

Thursday, August 26

 
 
The Last Daughter of Oedipus
   
Presented by Babes With Blades 
Written by Jennifer Mickelson
Lincoln Square Theatre, 4754 N. Leavitt, Chicago
   

lastdaughterJoin Babes With Blades ensemble members and the artistic staff for a pre-show reception! Enjoy Greek-themed hors d’oeuvres and a behind-the-scenes peek at the people and processes that guided The Last Daughter of Oedipus to its world premiere (our review ★★★½). Then settle in for the show, and follow Ismene, sole surviving child of Oedipus and Jocasta, as she fights to break the curse that devastated her family and now threatens to destroy Thebes. This groundbreaking production combines sword and shield, staff, and unarmed combat with voice and movement work to push the boundaries of physical and vocal storytelling

Event begins at 7 p.m.   Show begins at 8 p.m.

Tickets: $25   For reservations call 773.904.0391 and mention "Theater Thursdays."

 
 

REVIEW: The Last Daughter of Oedipus (Babes With Blades)

A New Sophistication for a New Kind of Savior

 Logan Black JK 4583

  
Babes With Blades presents
   
The Last Daughter of Oedipus
   
Written by Jennifer L. Mickelson
Directed by
Tara Branham
at
Lincoln Square Theatre, 4754 N. Leavitt (map)
through September 25  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

It’s a good thing there’s an afterlife in The Last Daughter of Oedipus or we mere mortals could easily write off its heroine, Ismene (Kimberly Logan), as a failure at everything she attempts in life. With her new play, produced by Babes With Blades at Lincoln Square Theatre, Jennifer L. Mickelson totally revises Ismene’s traditionally meek and incidental role in Classical myth and literature. More importantly, Mickelson re-imagines her heroine within absolutely appropriate parameters of Ancient Greek religion. The characters of this drama thoroughly believe in the gods, in prayer, in Logan Begale JK 4848 ritual and in the less glowing side of Greek religion, the shadowy beliefs about the supernatural and the underworld. Classical geek alert: The Last Daughter of Oedipus is mythologically correct.

Her sister, Antigone (Sarah Scanlon), is dead and buried, making Ismene the last of her bloodline. Now a mournful Kreon (Michael Sherwin), her uncle, rules her dynasty’s city. Creon’s judgment has always been suspect and now crumbles under the guilt of the deaths of his son Haemon and Antigone. If only Ismene could break the original curse that has brought her family and city low, she might be able to rebuild Thebes after its terrible period of war and strife.

Ismene escapes Thebes to seek Theseus’ counsel at Athens, accompanied by her ruddy servant Zeva (Eleanor Katz). On the way, three Athenian women, Amaranta (Mandy Walsh), Cassia (Jasmine Ryan) and Alcina (Katie Mack) redirect her to the Oracle at Delphi. Theseus had just departed to march on Thebes and now Ismene must consult the Oracle in order to understand and break the curse before war breaks out in earnest between her city and Athens. All the while, dark dreams of her incestuous mother Jocasta and her doomed sister Antigone haunt Ismene, driving her onward but giving her no rest or hope. Soon it becomes apparent that Ismene’s dreams and visions are not just in her head but, rather, originate from the ancient Furies who act to fulfill the curse against her family.

Tara Branham’s direction reigns almost effortlessly over the smooth flow of action from fight scene to fight scene. Additionally, her incorporation of Mercedes Rohlfs’ movement direction with Libby Beyreis’ fight choreography truly inspires and evokes stronger veracity for the play’s supernatural elements. The dreadful Furies, Tisiphone (Moira Begale-Smith), Alekto (Amy E. Harmon), and Megaira (Sarah Scanlon), recall the Witches in Macbeth or the ghost of Hamlet’s father, who could be leading the protagonist to truth and/or destruction.

The Last Daughter of Oedipus exhibits increasing theatrical depth for Babes With Blades, in both its writing and execution. Lighting (Leigh Barrett), sound (Stephen Ptacek), and costumes (Emma Weber) reveal a powerfully cohesive artistic vision. Furthermore, this play re-awakens, for modern audiences, the original purpose of tragedy in the city-state of Athens, which was to use familiar myth cycles to examine social and political challenges for the health of the state. Ismene’s final monologue before the end of the first act interrogates the sources of terror as much for our own times as for her own.

 

Harmon Logan JK 4800
Harmon Logan Begale Katz Scanlon JK 4649 Katz Black JK 4551

Kimberly Logan brings intelligent desperation to her interpretation of Ismene. The role itself swings from feeling badly to feeling less bad to feeling profoundly bad before Ismene’s final redemption in the underworld. It’s up to supporting characters to realize the plays’ lighter side—to which end, Harmon’s turn as the Pythia at the Oracle of Delphi makes for amazing and insightful comic catharsis. Here is a scene that both spoofs and takes seriously our era’s Goddess spirituality movements.

If there’s any fault to be found, it’s in pacing problems, which could easily be resolved in the course of the run. The cast has mastered Mickelson’s heightened language for intention and now needs to pick up the pace in some scenes for crisper realism. As for the fight scenes, standard to BWB productions, a bit too much control undoes the edge that makes for the realistic and thrilling danger of actors swinging swords around. The cast shouldn’t hurt themselves, but they’ve got to make it look like they could!

Of the very few venues in which Attic women actually held power, the exercise of religious offices and duties gave them the greatest social prestige and political influence. Hence, it’s only logical that Babes With Blades’ latest production sees Ismene battling with supernatural forces beyond her control. Yet, it is the their theatrical handling that displays the company’s increased sophistication in its mission to train women in combat roles and develop new dramas featuring fighting roles for women.

    
   
Rating: ★★★½
  
  
 

Mack Logan Ryan Walsh JK 4304

      

 

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Chicago Fringe Festival announces Pilsen play line-up

chicago_skyline_and_lake_michigan 

CHICAGO FRINGE FESTIVAL 2010

Pilsen Lineup and Venues, September 1st – 5th

 

The Chicago Fringe Festival has announced the complete lineup for its inaugural performing arts festival, slated for September 1st through the 5th in the Pilsen neighborhood. In the spirit of fringe festivals worldwide, 46 productions were selected by lottery from a total of 156 applicants. The final schedule will be released on August 1, 2010.

13 states will be represented at the uncensored festival, including New York, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Colorado and Nevada. In addition, 2 international productions will make an appearance at the festival, with works from Israel and Canada making their Chicago debut. All told, 198 performers will participate in this landmark event.

Local Chicago artists will have a strong showing at the festival, with many acts looking forward to performing for a hometown crowd. New Millennium Theatre Company will present a revival of The Texas Chainsaw Musical, directed by Artistic Director Chad Wise. Genesis Ensemble, a two-year-old performance collective, will present sweet, half-darkness.

"Pilsen’s vitality and connection to the arts made it a natural fit for the festival," says Executive Director and Founder, Sarah Mikayla Brown. "We’re excited to push both artistic and geographical boundaries as we introduce our audience to new works in what may be a new neighborhood to them."

Fringe Central

At the heart of the festivities will be Fringe Central, located near Racine and 18th Street. Live music, entertainment and outdoor exhibits will be accompanied by delicious food provided by local favorite Honky Tonk BBQ. "Fringe Central will be ground zero for participants and audience alike to kick back, relax, and enjoy thesights and sounds of Pilsen. We’re excited to provide a place where folks can share ideas, network and just enjoy good company," says Associate Producer Vinnie Lacey.

Fringe Central will also play host to the Chicago Fringe Preview Party on August 28, 2010. Attendees will get an early taste of festival offerings as selected performers preview their Chicago Fringe productions.

8 Venues

All eight venues have been announced, including the Chicago Art Department Gallery, Dream Theatre, Temple Gallery, EP Theater, Chicago Arts District Galleries, Casa Aztlan and Simone’s Bar. Six of the venues are non-traditional spaces, and the Festival is currently raising capital to ensure premium flooring, lighting, sound equipment and technicians are in place to transform each space into a premiere performance venue.

MidwestFringe Circuit

The Chicago Fringe Festival will also mark the last stop of the first annual MidwestFringe Circuit, featuring three other American fringe festivals: Kansas City, Minnesota and Indianapolis. Four productions from each festival were selected by lottery to tour all four cities.


Guarenteed production slots at the 2010 Chicago Fringe Festival:

 

LOCAL

  • Shanna Shrum – Skinny Dipping – Not Your Mama’s One Woman Show!
  • Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre – Moliere Than Thou
  • Lincoln Square TheatreThe Parenticide Club
  • Shakura World Theatre – Columbine & Roses
  • Piel Morena Contemporary Dance – Machito Pichon
  • Rebecca Kling – Uncovering the Mirrors
  • 2nd Story TheatreCabinalysis… or, Build Your Own Damn Cabin!
  • Citadel Theatre Company5 Times 10 – A Collection of 10 Minutes Plays
  • Les Enfants Terribles – Believe in Nothing, Mock Everything
  • The Consortium Project – Knee-Jerk
  • Megan Rhyme – Inner Cartography
  • Ripettes Burlesque – The Ripettes Burlesque in… Peter Panties: A Neverland Burlesque
  • Hubris ProductionsAnnee Pocalypse
  • The Anatomy Collective – TBD – Untitled Anatomy Collective Project
  • New Millenium Theatre  – The Texas Chainsaw Musical
  • No Small Productions – What To Expect
  • Weber & Einstein – Please Love Me, High School Boyfriend
  • Jason Economus – The Steve Show
  • Genesis Ensemblesweet, half-darkness
  • Terra Mysterium – Finding Eleusis
  • Patchwork Woman Performance – Bridges
  • The Hollow Tree – Scenes of a Love Like Nature
  • The Talking Cure – The Talking Cure Presents

NON-LOCAL

  • Theater Undeclared – Grind: The Musical
  • Swanderwoman Productions – Driving the Body Back
  • No Snowcones Productions – That Greek Thing
  • Jeff Kreisler & Up Top Productions – Get Rich Cheating
  • Meddlin’ Productions – Girls and Dolls
  • Adam Theater – Hansel & Gretel the end of a fairy tale
  • Terri Cyrmes – Single Girl in a Gay Man’s World
  • Pantea Productions – Silken Veils
  • Nicole Kearney Productions – And Ya Don’t Stop a hip hop play
  • Les Kurkendaal – Christmas in Bakersfield
  • RE/Dance – The Lonely Visitors
  • Paul Diem – Mulatto Child – Voices From the Margins
  • Evan O’Sullivan – Evan O’Television Presents: Double Negatives
  • BITE Theatre – KRAIGSLIST
  • La Rinascita – The Fugitives
  • Howard Petrick – Rambo: The Missing Years
  • Gemma Wilcox – The Honeymoon Period is Officially Over
  • Opium, Fireworks and Lead – Exhausted Paint: The Death of Van Gogh
  • Patrick Devine – Breaking Down in America
  • Maire Clerkin The Bad Arm – Confessions of a Dodgy Irish Dancer
  • And Giggles Productions – The Playdaters
  • Tiberius Productions Touch My App
  • What’s a Girl to Do Productions – Drunk with Hope in Chicago

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REVIEW: On Golden Pond (Lincoln Square Theatre)

Everything but the romance on this ‘Pond’

 OGPpress3

 
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
 
 

OGPpress1 

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