Review: Electra and Orestes (20% Theatre Company)

     
     

A bloody goth industrial mess

     
     

Laura Deger, Sophie Gatins, Lindsay Le Tigre Bartlett in "Electra and Orestes", adapted by Melissa Albertario. Photo credit: Laura Olesda

      
20% Theatre Company presents
  
Electra and Orestes
   
Written by Sophocles
Adapted and Directed by Melissa Albertario
at Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main, Evanston (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Revisions of Classical Greek drama perpetually crop up in Chicago’s theater scene—a testament to their power to reach into the core of the human psyche and provoke renewal of perspective. Emotionally impacted by the Columbine Massacres, playwright and director Melissa Albertario sees a dramatic framework in the story of Electra, addressing how youth react to violence, upheaval and emotional anguish. Unfortunately, her newly minted adaptation, Electra and Orestes, produced by Twenty Percent Theatre Company at the Evanston Arts Depot, is so premature for the stage and so rankly amateurish, it runs the danger of provoking more laughter than empathy for the plight of its title characters.

Mindy Yourokos and Jackelyn Normand in 20% Theatre's "Electra and Orestes". Photo credit: Laura OleskaFirst, there’s the dialogue, which comes across more like leaden imitation than updated reinterpretation or even homage. Incorporating fragmented lyrics from Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and Radiohead’s “Creep” into the play’s choral sections more often than not tinges the production with unintentional silliness.

Add further the conceit that Electra (Mindy Yourokos) is a goth girl warring against her sinister mother Clytemnestra (Clarissa Yearman) and her boy-toy king Aegisthus (Don Markus), not to mention constantly assailing her conformist, goody-two-shoes sister, Chrysothemis (Jackie Normand), for accommodating them and you have a feeble attempt at trying to plaster modern domestic relationships onto an ancient epic is, well, more truly epic than the modern relationships. From the get-go, Electra and Orestes has no sense of proportion; it only follows that its characters will go on and on with their conflicts and protestations, with no sign of any editorial sense of where and when to cut.

Finally, Ashley Ann Woods’ set design looks like the goth/industrial aesthetic threw up all over stage in a desperate attempt to be gritty and hardcore. Top it off with clumsy and often needless projections and what you have is a theatrical mess.

     
A scene from Twenty-Percent Theatre's "Electra and Orestes" at the Evanston Arts Depot. Photo credit: Laura Oleska Mindy Youroukos and Claire Yearman in 20% Theatre's "Electra and Orestes".  Photo credit: Linda Oleska
Sophie Gatins in 20% Theatre's "Electra and Orestes". Photo credit: Linda Oleska Zack Meyer and Mindy Yourokos in 20% Theatre's "Electra and Orestes" Laura Deger in 20% Theatre's "Electra and Orestes".  Photo credit: Linda Oleska

What, then, can be salvaged from an impossibly immature production like this? Well, both Zack Meyer and Benjamin Johnson decently acquit their roles as Orestes and Pylades, respectively–even as their opening scene has them loadin’ up with guns and ammo to assail the House of Atreus. Clarissa Yearman packs some punch as good, old, wicked Clytemnestra, although she looks like Ivana Trump after the Eighties have thrown up all over her (costuming Betsey Palmer).

As for the heroine, Electra, I really wish I could say I cared about her emotional distress and compulsive tendency to engage in self-cutting—but the sluggish dialogue, the drawn out and pointless arguments with Chrysothemis and the Chorus’s ridiculous headdresses make it impossible. Nice goth gown, though. Mind if I borrow it for my next night out at Neo?

  
  
Rating:
  
  

Lindsay Le Tigre Bartlett, Laura Deger, Sophie Gatins in 20% Theatre's "Electra and Orestes". Photo credit: Linda Oleska

All photo by Laura Oleska

        
        

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Review: Man from Nebraska (Redtwist Theatre)

  
  

Broad collection of fervent scenes doesn’t quite make a whole

  
  

Michael Sherwin (Rev. Todd), Sam Perry (Bud)

  
Redtwist Theatre presents
  
Man From Nebraska
 
Written by Tracy Letts 
Directed by Andrew Jessop
at Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through April 24  |  tickets: $25-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Redtwist Theatre has pulled off wonders within the confines of its black box theater space, such as morphing into a cheerfully bland New York hotel lobby with Lobby Hero (our review ★★★½) or, for their production of The Pillowman (review ★★), a claustrophobic interrogation room adjoined by macabre mini-theaters at both ends. But they may have bit off more than they can chew staging Tracy Letts’ 2003 play Man From Nebraska. Stephen H. Carmody’s set design does all it can with movable stages that serve for car and hotel scenes; Christopher Burpee’s lighting design can be impressively transformative at the right moments; Andrew Jessop’s video provides sly and suggestive white noise when the television becomes an extra character in a scene. Still, the play’s stop-and-start shifts are hell for any director to draw a cohesive arc from. Though Jessop’s direction Adrian Snow (Tamyra), Andrew J. Pond (Harry), Chuck Spencer (Ken)crafts gorgeous, singular jewels with each theatrical moment, it cannot ameliorate the overriding fragmentary nature of Letts’ writing, which seems more relevant for the screen than the stage.

Only one abiding element comes close to binding the production—Chuck Spencer’s performance, authentic to the bones, as Ken Carpenter, a man who awakens in the middle of the night to question everything he once held true. Jan Ellen Graves provides quiet backup as Ken’s sorely tested helpmeet, Nancy, but the show remains Spencer’s in every way. One could consider his portrayal of Ken as the bookend to his 2009 triumph as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman at Raven Theatre (review). He seems born to play the quintessential life of quiet desperation.

The opening scenes do everything to depict Ken and Nancy’s somnambulant routines and corn-fed complacency, right down to silently shared dinners over chicken-fried steaks and mashed potatoes. But then Ken’s midnight crisis of faith hits hard and stands in abrupt, violent contrast to everything that’s gone before. Ken, Baptist born and raised, realizes to his horror that he does not believe in God–Spenser successfully sells every raw moment of Ken’s lifetime of belief pulled out from underneath him.

The rest of the play Ken searches for what he truly believes in; how various people respond to his earnest and heartfelt quest eventually reflects more on them than the protagonist. Small theatrical moments shine with humor, veracity, warm simplicity, yet sometimes we are never really far from a sharp Lettsian edge. Chuck Spencer (Ken), Marssie Mencotti (Cammie)Reverend Todd (Michael Sherwin) proves to be as cheerfully vapid and materialistic a clergyman as Satan could ever send to test the faithful, yet it is on his recommendation that Ken take a vacation that shapes his quest. Equally, daughter Ashley (Julie Dahlinger) seems too caught up in the things of this world to ever understand her father’s driven personal inquiry. In worldly company, Ken seems like an oddity—the guy who cares too much about spiritual matters that everyone else has let go of long ago.

Spencer is up to giving a performance that makes Ken more than an accidental tourist in the realms of moral ambiguity. Unfortunately, the script itself doesn’t plumb the depths of Ken’s emotional or spiritual quest but leaves a lot of it inchoate. Furthermore, the play’s fragmentary nature makes it difficult to tie in Ken’s search for truth with what is going on with Nancy at home. So many actors give strong and mature performances, it’s a shame that the whole struggles to gel. It’s worth it just to go and view the production as an assortment of excellent scenes in the hands of sure and capable craftsmen. Certainly, Ken and Nancy’s powerful reunion will stays long after the show is over. But, all in all, we have to accept Man From Nebraska as a lesser work of Chicago’s currently most successful playwright.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
     
  

Man From Nebraska continues through April 24th at the Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, with performances Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $25 on Thursdays, $27 on Fridays and Sundays, and $30 on Saturdays, and can be bought online or by calling 773-728-7529.  Reserve seats by e-mailing reserve@redtwist.org.

Michael Sherwin (Rev. Todd), Jan Ellen Graves (Nancy), Chuck Spencer (Ken)

Jane deLaubenfels (Pat), Chuck Spencer (Ken) Chuck Spencer (Ken), Jan Ellen Graves (Nancy)
  

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REVIEW: Shining City (Redtwist Theatre)

  
  

God is elusive in Redtwist’s captivating ‘Shining City’

 
 

Brian Parry and John Arthur Lewis in Redtwist Theatre's 'Shining City' - photo Andrew Jessop

  
Redtwist Theatre presents
  
Shining City
  

Written by Conor McPherson
Directed by
Joanie Schultz 
at
Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through Feb 27  |  tickets: $25-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

There is a moment in Redtwist’s Shining City where, lurking behind a door, a split-second spark of divinity is revealed. It is bloodied, silent, and is at once horrifying and reassuring.

To call Conor McPherson’s play a “ghost story” would imply it provides some answer to the nature and existence of another world or its inhabitants. But in the streets and isolated dwellings of McPherson’s Dublin, there is no such certainty. Even when an apparition is in plain sight, its significance, meaning and reality is just painfully out of Brian Parry and John Arthur Lewis in Redtwist Theatre's 'Shining City'. Photo by Andrew Jessopreach.

This play is rather, for all its melancholy and despair, a love story.

Set in an upstairs therapist’s office, Shining City chronicles the sessions of middle-aged widower John (the superb Brian Parry), and his ex-priest doctor, Ian (John Arthur Lewis). After the sudden death of his wife, John has begun to see visions of his spouse, moving him out of his home and into a local inn. Ian, wrestling with his own losses, has just left the woman he abandoned the Church for. The mother of Ian’s child, Neasa (Cheryl Lynn Golemo) struggles to exist separated in the unwelcoming company of Ian’s family. Two months flash between each scene, and as time goes on, the three slip further away from any assurance of who they are or the morality of the decisions they’ve made.

Each of these characters are, in one way or another, in limbo. They are all lost between homes, identities, loves, or sexualities, and seek escape in all the wrong ways. Director Joanie Schultz comments in her program note that she calls upon her own experience living out of a suitcase to relate an ambience of no refuge, which she accomplishes brilliantly in this production. Redtwist’s nearly claustrophobic performance space serves to amplify the overtones of each character’s underlying fear and wanting. Much of the action is relayed through long, patient storytelling, and just as John cannot escape his guilt and anxiety, we as the audience are seated almost in the hyper-realistic office right there with him, his deep-gravel, hypnotic voice only feet away. These characters are richly drawn, and this ensemble does great Cheryl Lynn Golemo and John Arthur Lewis in Redtwist Theatre's 'Shining City'. Photo by Andrew Jessopjustice to them, supplying flaws and sympathies to their humanity.

In the intimate setting, no detail goes unnoticed, and play’s production team has created a scrupulously complete environment, from the window’s view of a cathedral to the ideal selection of transitional music.

McPherson doesn’t appear to relish the hell he puts his characters through, making their struggle all the more real and painful to watch. It also makes their redemption that much more believable and satisfying.

Shining City’s finale may prove to be divisive for some audiences. I encourage them to take note of John’s declared realization when considering the play’s last image: it isn’t the fact of what happens that’s important, but instead the effect. Regardless of their conclusion, the effect–like this production–will be moving.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
 
 

Kaelan Strouse and John Arthur Lewis in Redtwist Theatre's 'Shining City'. Photo by Andrew Jessop

Production continues through February 27th – Thu, Fri, Sat at 7:30pm and Sun at 3pm. No performance on Sun, Feb 6, but an add’l perf on Sat, Feb 26, 3pm.  The show’s running time is approximately 1:40 with no intermission. Tickets: Thursdays, $25; Fridays & Sundays, $27; Saturdays, $30 (seniors & students $5 off).  More info: www.redtwist.org/Tickets.html.

     
     

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