Review: Erratica (The American Demigods)

     
     

Sex and Shakespeare for the scholastically inclined

     
     

Erratica at America Demigods, by Reina Hardy

   
American Demigods present
  
Erratica
  
Written by Reina Hardy
Directed by Dan Foss
at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
through May 14  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The American Demigods are working with one sharp and sassy script for their latest production at Second Stage Theatre. Dan Foss directs a taut, dynamically funny cast for Erratica, by Reina Hardy. An academic farce, Erratica brings brains and loins together with a typical dash of intellectual neurosis. Hardy, being the founder and Artistic Director of The Viola Project, which introduces young girls to Shakespeare, is eminently familiar with the academic field she spoofs. Her professorial protagonist, Dr. Samantha Stafford (Lisa Herceg), idolizes her subject, the Bard, to the rejection of all others. Yet she finds herself up to her eyeballs in moonstruck, mediocre student-poets, glib, scheming and mercenary publicists, and competitive colleagues who would also like to get into her pants. Even the ghost of Christopher Marlowe (David A scene from the American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.Wilhelm) desires her amorous, as well as academic, attention. But all the good doctor wants is love distilled to a purity of lived experience that matches Shakespeare’s sublime and ineffable lines.

Of course, no one can live up to that—but that doesn’t stop the puerile attempts of one of her students, Gregory, to woo her with his verse. We never get to see Gregory. But we do get a full on rant against Dr. Stafford from Elspeth (Victoria Bucknell), his defender, for rebuffing Gregory’s advances by savaging his poems. Though stuck on Gregory herself, Elspeth reviles the professor for reducing Gregory to cringing under the table at Commons “eating nothing but Triscuits and powdered Tang.” If Elspeth cannot have Gregory, she at least wants him to be happy in his own heart’s desire—something that absolutely dumbfounds the professor.

Against her wishes to be left alone, Stafford is pulled into an undertow of messy, hormonally-driven desire. Likewise, her desire for academic purity, such as the publication of her highly intellectual treatise on Shakespeare, meets with the mercenary side of publishing–represented by her leggy, fast-talking and devious publicist Lisa Milkmin (Kelly Yacono). Herceg charmingly delivers Stafford’s smart and sardonic exasperation down pat and, while Bucknell makes a classic comic foil with her character’s adolescent insecurity and Wilhelm bounces off her rebuffs of Marlowe with intelligent, roguish charm, nothing crackles as much as the showdown between professor and publicist. It’s style meets substance—and superficial style is definitely winning.

A scene from the American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.Lisa wants Stafford to shape her book into a “Shakespeare for the Cosmo girl.” But failing that, she pressures Stafford into translating the newly discovered “Quinberry Diaries,” a recent academic find of an Elizabethan trollop’s journals that has garnered intense notoriety and landed a career coup for the university’s head librarian, Dr. Hooper. “You’re pleading like an undergraduate,” Hooper smarmily quips once Stafford comes asking for the dairies, “that’s exciting.” If Hardy’s play has any flaws, it’s in the way her cerebral protagonist has to skirt sexual harassment moments like these to keep the whole play light and fluid. Foss’s direction simply drives the play forward and the mysterious theft of the Quinberry Diaries distracts from Hooper delivering even further unwanted sexual advances.

Likewise, for such a smart comedy, the play wraps up a little formulaically, with a character leaping from behind an arras to resolve the final entanglement or Stafford showing sudden sexual interest in Hooper where there was none before. All that can be said is that Hardy’s shrewd dialogue and Foss’s clean-cut direction takes the audience through the journey with zippy alacrity. So, savor the juicy conspiratorial scene between Elspeth and Lisa. Enjoy Stafford’s alcoholic binge breakdown, when she declares, “Vodka’s like black—it goes with everything.” Appreciate the quieter moments when Marlowe tries to get through to her. Life isn’t pure poetry. And that’s a good thing.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

The cast of American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.

     

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Rhino Fest 2011: A Fruit Salad of Fringe

  
  

A Fruit Salad of Fringe

  
  
Astronaut - Lemonade Stand - Strange Lupus Theatre Currency by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Spores of Eden by Peter Axel Komistra  
       

All plays reviewed by Paige Listerud

Time simply won’t allow for a thorough review of all the productions curated for Curious Theatre Branch’s 22nd Annual Rhinoceros Theater Festival. But an initial smattering might give you a glimpse of the good, the bad, and the deeply uncertain. Chicago’s fringe theater scene is clearly a subculture that depends on prior acquaintanceship—to know which fringe theater companies have a solid reputation for good work and which are still finding their feet and their voice. The following is a truly random selection of Rhino Fest 2011, a fruit salad of fringe, if you will, chosen for variety within the first weekends of the festival—many more productions remain throughout its 5-week run (through February 13). Check out the rest of its schedule.

Prop Thtr    

 All performances @ Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston (map)

 

    
All The Flowers Are Dead - Curious Branch Theatre All That Fall by Samuel Beckett - at Rhino Fest

 

Curious Theatre Branch presents
 
All That Fall/All the Flowers Are Dead
 

All That Fall by Samuel Beckett

Judith Harding, Matthew Kopp, Kate O’Reilly, Meg Hauk and Beau O’Reilly beautifully revived this Beckett radio play, all the while seated at a table crammed with hats and various noisemakers for special effects. Mrs. Rooney (Harding) takes a sojourn from her home to the train station where she means to pick up her husband. Along the way, she runs into various neighbors who may be a help, a hindrance, a peril, or a temptation to her. Beckett’s love of the cadence of language out of Irish mouths suffuses All That Fall, even when characters acknowledge that they are speaking a dead or dying language. It’s a play in which the old survive, even through complaining about the weariness of going on. Youth is either dying or removed by more insidious means. Curious’ production was so charming, rich and evocatively rendered, it’s a pity they will not be performing All That Fall past the first weekend of Rhino Fest. This production truly deserves a remount. If their production of Mexico, a poem play by Gertrude Stein is done half as well, then Chicago audiences are in for a real treat.

All the Flowers Are Dead, written and directed by Matt Rieger

Matt Rieger’s script is almost American Primitive in its construction and dialogue. Two households live in grinding poverty and predictable misery. Jerome takes care of his ailing mother, hoping that his new job planting flowers for the Park District will give them a better chance. His girlfriend, Rusty, gives him a bicycle to get to and from work but she also pressures Jerome into further commitment. Meanwhile, Augie has to contend with his dad, Nicky, for whom another drink is always the right decision and mom is no help when she finally stops pressuring Nicky to find employment and joins him in drink. Sadly, the first half of Rieger’s play is too plodding and the dialogue too boilerplate to capture the imagination. The play only comes alive once Nicky, to regain his son’s affection, steals Jerome’s new bicycle to give to Augie. The play’s conclusion is devastating but takes far too long to get there, making All the Flowers Are Dead a work in progress more than a completed play.


Astronaut - Lemonade Stand - Strange Lupus Theatre

   
Strange Lupus Theatre presents
  
Lemonade Stand
  
Written by Jordan Scrivner
Directed by
Ernest J. Ramon,
Sasha Samochina and Jordan Scrivner
thru Feb 10  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

It looks like another sunny day at the beach with a lovely young woman, Laura (Jessica Bailey), tending her humble and homey lemonade stand. But, in fact, it’s a way station on an asteroid at the other end of a wormhole, through which astronaut Alexander Russell (Ken Brown) has been propelled from his position on Earth’s moon. How did he get here and how will he get back—or go forward, since time and space have been thoroughly transcended? Laura’s answers Alex’s questions rather cryptically, plus the pair faces interruptions from a thoroughly goofy Professor (Crispin Rosenkranz), an affable and romantic delivery guy (Ernest J. Ramon) and a Russian gal (Sasha Samonchina) in disco attire. Strange Lupus’ production still looks rough around the edges–what with Brown coming off more like a confused actor than a confuse astronaut and Rosenkranz’s daffy, congenial professor still in need of refined comic timing. As is, Scrivner has a charming and profound script with Bailey and her delivery guy holding the production’s center. Simple but effective lighting effects from Maria Jacobson and Shannon Penkava, paired with Ramon and Samochina’s sound design, give Lemonade Stand its out-of-this-world vibe.

Featuring: Ken Brown, Jessica Bailey, Crispin Rosenkranz, Ernest Ramon, Sasha Samochina, Tommy Heffron, Paul Scudder

Sound Design by Ryan Dunn and Sasha Samochina


Currency by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman

   
Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Duo present
   
Currency
    
Performed by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman
More information

Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman have the consummate professionalism of a longstanding comic team. While undoubtedly their short theater pieces contain comic moments, their real intent is to go to the center of human movement, habit and meaning. “Coffee Cup Duet” establishes the rhythm of a simple business meeting over coffee, as well as the rituals inherent in meeting and needing transactions wherein coffee and its accoutrements establish the common ground. “’Napse” is a mysterious and unearthly piece, combining Glassman’s commonplace movements with the gargling, choking, chewing, distortions and whispers Glassman conjures from a small mic saddled in his cheek. One never knows where Glassman is going next with the world he creates from each garbled sound. The suspense alone leads to a finish that unites the everyday with eternity. “Time and Again” examines the stop and start repetitive habits of a couple over the issue of when to return a book to the library. Fay and Glassman’s timing is impeccable and interrogates the very coming and going, leaving or staying that makes a relationship. “Homeland” hits the hardest, with a solitary housewife moving backward in time, from the moment she weeps into a phone in her hand to the violation of her home that has provoked her upset. The piece chillingly depicts where we are now.


"The Spores of Eden" by Peter Axel Komistra, now playing at Prop Thtr as part of Chicago Rhino Fest

   
Two Weeks Productions presents
  
The Spores of Eden
    
Written by Peter Axel Komistra
Directed by
Dylan S. Roberts
thru Feb 12  | 
tickets: $12  |  more info

Agatha (Lisa Herceg) and her daughter Linda (Cathlyn Melvin) spare it out over the last egg out of a dozen Agatha has set out in an Easter egg hunt for Linda to find. Not finding the 12th egg, Linda gives up and refuses to go looking for it, even when it begins to rot and stink up the house. A battle of wills ensues when Agatha keeps replacing the rotten egg for Linda to find and Linda keeps refusing to go in search of it.  Decay becomes the only thing the two women know and seems to be the only thing by which the Father (Paul Cary), speaking posthumously, endorses—or so we think. Everything remains at an impasse until Topher (Rory Jobst), Linda’s banished brother, arrives one evening to try and understand his banishment and his wayward life ever since. Peter Komistra seems to not know what to do with characters with such implacable wills as he has crafted here. While the cast does an admirable job with Komistra’s language, the characters themselves only oppose or undermine each other but never reach any kind of clear and creative rapprochement. While it’s thoroughly legitimate to return the play’s circumstances to the same decaying state in which they begin, the conundrums of seeking or failing to find renewal also receive a muddled treatment in the course of the work. The Spores of Eden needs a strong editorial hand and clarification—and it may also benefit from not leaning so heavily on the “Book of Genesis”.

  
  

Mexico - Curious Branch Theatre - Chicago Rhino Fest

           
           

REVIEW: Sex Marks the Spot (New Lincoln Theatre)

Even a farce needs to be sincere

  Maggie Grahm and Tony Fiorentino star in Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicago.

  
New Lincoln Theatre presents
  
Sex Marks the Spot
  
Written by Charles Grippo
Directed by
Damian Arnold
at
Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through July 25th  |  tickets: $26   | more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

Sex Marks the Spot is a farce about a political sex scandal. Or at least, it wants to be one. At the top of the play, Senator Clooney (Tony Fiorentino) is pacing around his office, badgering his assistant (Adam Schulmerich) as they attempt to finalize the big family values speech that he is going to deliver at tonight’s big debate with porn star Desiree Le Bonque. The reason he’s debating a porn star instead of a politician is Tony Fiorentino and Maggie  Graham star in  Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicagothat his opponent is a priest and, the men have decided that no one can debate a priest and come away from it looking good, so the big porn star offers herself up to be eaten alive in front of thousands of people, a task playwright Charles Grippo assumes, women like her have no problem with. Grippo punishes his audience with a list of Desiree’s films, with names like "Saturday Night Beaver" and "Free My Willy" which, may sound familiar to you, probably because they’re the oldest jokey porn names in the history of jokey porn names.

This kind of thoughtless writing doesn’t bode well for the farce genre, especially a farce like this one, which is in the Noises Off vein of slamming doors and timed exits. Grippo’s logic is faulty, and thus, so are his bits. The audience gets ahead of Grippo at the plays open, and it’s impossible for him to win them over. This is a play without one foot on the ground, nothing real or honest linking the words on stage to the people in the audience, except for it’s earnest cast.

This alone is not enough to garner the obvious venom on the tone of this review. What Charles Grippo is actually guilty of is creating a character that is a disgusting and offensive parody of a woman – a woman who is so broad and weakly conceived that the only characteristic she possesses is vague sycophantism and greed. The only choice this woman makes in the entirety of the play is to take off her clothes, which remain off for the duration of the show. When we finally meet Desiree Le Bonque, she is not written as a porn star, she is written as a whore. She is revealed to be having a secret affair with the senator, and she confronts the him with an ultimatum, marry me or I’ll tell. But it’s her reasoning that pushes her over the edge: she wants the one thing she can’t have: respect. So she asks to marry the one man who can give it to her. Farce or no farce, I can’t imagine a woman alive who still thinks this way, especially one who is supposed to be as successful as Desiree Le Bonque.

   

Adam Schulmerich and Tony Fiorentino star in Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicago Tony Fiorentino and Lisa Herceg star in  Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicago.

In a later scene, in which the truly talented Adam Schulmerich is forced to masquerade as Desiree, the scene escalates near to the point of rape, because of the supposed understanding that a denial of sex with the man in question will reveal that he is not, in fact, this woman. The scene is intended to be funny, but is actually one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen in a piece of live theater. It’s not the punchline of this joke that’s horrible, it’s the set up. It’s not the sex, or the sexualization, it’s the total lack of power and credibility this character has, and the information that the audience is supposed to take for granted, that makes for an extremely uncomfortable night of theater. Sex Marks the Spot is intended to be a comedy, but ultimately this is a play that is too far removed from humanity to parody the human condition.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

Tony Fiorentino, Adam Schulmerich and  Maggie Graham star in  Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicago.

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Review – “Los Desaparecidos” (The Vanished)

Babes With Blades has never believed in playing it safe, and this can certainly be seen in the final production of their 10th Anniversary season – the world premiere of Barbara Lhota’s Los Desaparecidos (The Vanished).  The germination of the play all started from a rather cool playwright competition: entrants were presented with the painting “Duelo de Mujeres” (The Duel of Women), and instructed to create a play with the painting as inspiration.  Out of over 20 entries, the winning playwright, Barbara Lhota, has created a raucous and sexy world where women gladly take up the sword for fun and heroism (though set in 16th-century Spain, the play seems to not be of any time-period).  Using many Shakespearean devices, Los Desaparecidos explores the impact of family ties, societal pressures, and unexpected love in the lives of two sisters.  Los Desaparecidos is ultimately about how the power of love can triumph over intolerance. 

Pros: The performances are exemplary – so full of passion and athleticism, that it leaves one exhausted.  The three powerful leading women – Stephanie Repin (Diana), Meghan Martinez (Isabel) and Rachel Stubbs (Eliana) – truly shine in their roles. 

Cons: At times the pacing seems to falter, though it quickly rights itself throughout.   Ending is a bit implausible.

Summary: Take a cast of passionate actors, throw in a fun script, season it with spicy sword fights and taboo romances, and – if such a thing suits you – you end up with a swashbuckling time at the theatre. 

Rating: «««    

Production: Los Desaparecidos (The Vanished)
Playwright: Barbara Lhota
Director: David Woolley
Featuring: Stephanie Repin (Diana), Meghan M. Martinez (Isabel), Rachel Stubbs (Eliana), Sean Patrick Leonard (Eduardo), Lisa Herceg (Marisol), Paul E. Martinez (Frederico), Mercedes Rohlfs (Lucilla), Morgan Manasa (Zania), Dustin Spence (Father Roberto, The Man), Libby Beyreis (Servanct), Ryan Christopher Zarecki (Servant), Gregory M. Larson (Antonio)
Design Team: Tina Bernacchi (Asst. Director/Dramaturg), Leigh Barrett (Lighting), Alex Braatz (Sound), Anders Jacobson (Scenery), Michelle Julazdeh (Costumes), Libby Beyreis (Fight Captain), Sean Patrick Leonard (Makeup Effects)
Technical Team: Kjerstine McHugh (Stage Manager), Amy E. Harmon (Producer), Gillian N. Humiston (Assistant Producer), Alison Dornheggen (Marketing)
Coming next: Land of the Free by Mark Burns, directed by Beth Cummings – Fall 2008
More info: www.BabesWithBlades.org

Diana (Stephanie Repin) and Antonio (Gregory M. Larson) fall in love

Diana (Stephanie Repin) and Antonio (Gregory M. Larson) fall in love  

 Diana (Stephanie Repin) faces Eliana (Rachel Stubbs) in single combat in Babes With Blades\' \

Diana (Stephanie Repin) faces Eliana (Rachel Stubbs) in single combat in Babes With Blades’ “Los Desaparecidos (The Vanished)”

Diana (Stephanie Repin) and her sister Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez) work through a disagreement

Diana (Stephanie Repin) and her sister Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez) work through a disagreement!!

Frederico (Paul E. Martinez) and Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez) try to have a child in Babes With Blades\' \

Frederico (Paul E. Martinez) and Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez) try to have a child

Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez) and Diana (Stephanie Repin) work through a disagreement in Babes With Blades\' \

Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez) and Diana (Stephanie Repin) work through a disagreement

Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez), Eliana (Rachel Stubbs), and Diana (Stephanie Repin) meet in Babes With Blades\' \

Isabel (Meghan M. Martinez), Eliana (Rachel Stubbs), and Diana (Stephanie Repin) meet in Babes With Blades' "Los Desaparecidos (The Vanished)"

Servants Marisol (Lisa Herceg) and Eliana (Rachel Stubbs) gossip in Babes With Blades\' \

Servants Marisol (Lisa Herceg) and Eliana (Rachel Stubbs) gossip amongst themselves