REVIEW: The House of Yes (Artistic Home)

A resounding, yet disturbing, “Yes”

 

House of Yes Publicity Photo #1

 
The Artistic Home presents
 
The House of Yes
 
by Wendy Macleod
directed by
Kaiser Ahmed
at
The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark (map)
thru May 2nd  |  tickets: $10-$15  |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

This is a story of what the age of Camelot hath wrought and what happens when no one tells you no. The Artistic Home’s production of The House of Yes is a dark love story that takes place almost two decades after the assassination of JFK. It is also a master portrait of comic absurdity in the privileged class of America.

House of Yes Publicity Photo #2 The Pascal family is trapped in time and in collective delusion. The eldest daughter is named Jackie O (brilliantly played by Liz Ladach-Bark). It quickly becomes apparent that Jackie O is a very disturbed girl. Ladach-Bark speaks in a patrician tone reminiscent of Katherine Hepburn and gives a wonderful unhinged quality to her character.

Miranda Zola (Mrs. Pascal) is an elegantly beautiful performer whose character encourages and sustains an incestuous relationship between her children. Both chilling and funny, Mrs. Pascal seems to admire the twisted relationship between her twin children.

The play is set at Thanksgiving, which can be a cliché of family drama-trauma, but this family melee is done skillfully and without histrionics. Youngest son Anthony (played with subtle ferocity by Tom McGregor), who has dropped out of Princeton, a failure at most everything save for his role as antagonizing brother, is trying to keep up with his big brother Marty in more ways than one and taunts Jackie O, telling her that Marty is bringing home a friend. The oldest brother has been away at college and his sister has been away at a mental institution. When Marty Pascal (the outstanding Andrew Yearick) steps through the door with a fiancée Lesly (Devon Carson, who does a commendable job playing the the production’s one “normal” person), all hell breaks loose – literally. Yearick truly looks like Joe College of whom his mother should be proud. The unraveling of his psyche and his helplessness to the machinations of Jackie O is infuriating and spellbinding.

Within this play are three scenes that might stay with you for a time after leaving the theatre:

A scene between Ms. Ladach-Bark and Ms. Carson is terrifying and yet funny. Jackie O is brushing Lesly’s hair while interrogating her about Marty. It seemed as if she were going to bludgeon her with the brush or rip her neck open, but she let the catty remarks fly while sweetly brushing. It was a nail biter moment like Clemenza in the back seat in “The Godfather”.

The most riveting scene is the sick reenactment of the JFK assassination that serves as foreplay for the fevered sex between siblings. Jackie O dons a pink Chanel suit with macaroni and ketchup standing in for the brains of the dead president. Marty pretends to be riding in the convertible and Jackie O shoots him, then runs to his side to play the part of the terrified widow. The line uttered in the first scene about Jackie O holding Marty’s penis in the womb is echoed without words.

House of Yes Publicity Photo #3 Finally, the scene between Mr. McGregor and Ms. Carson is disturbing in a different way. It is hard to fathom that fiance Lesly would fall for Anthony’s line of bull. He claims to be a virgin with a brain tumor and he needs to have sex before he dies. Anthony then drops the bomb that Jackie O and her fiance Marty are lovers, which Lesly does not believe until she sees it with her own eyes. It’s not that the sibling relations revolt her but that she plays into their hands to stay in the game. The whole family is lined up against her at this point but Lesly thinks she can still get away with the prize of Marty. In fact, the whole family is lined up for Jackie O because she has always gotten her way. She has flushed a lizard down the toilet because she thought that Marty loved it more than her. Mrs. Pascal explains, “Jackie O has always gotten her way. That’s just the way it is.”  (The Pascals are like wolves that feed on outsiders. It is intimated that Mr. Pascal’s abandonment was really a murder that coincided with the hole being dug for central air conditioning. )

A great deal of skill and passion went into making an act of incest really an act of love. Yes, it is twisted  – but the actors, and superb direction by Kaiser Ahmed, gives one a sense that the damage was done before the twins took to playing house to a higher adult level.

The set design, by Mike Mroch, is quite beautiful and authentic. (I found myself going through a flashback to my grandmother’s house, with the polished wood bar and the trapezoid coffee table.) Gleaming martini glasses and decanters add a glint of extra danger to the action. The use of picture frames as windows is a touch of brilliance as well (although they could just as well have been funhouse mirrors!).

This production was a breakneck thrill ride for me. Everything is done impeccably. The director has done a beautiful and seamless job of directing very difficult material. This is an indictment of American privilege that shows how always getting one’s way becomes parasitic. Though horrifying to think that neighbors could be watching this family’s demise, I am glad that I got to be a voyeur in The House of Yes. Take the time to watch-this is theatre at its best.

 
Rating: ★★★
 

House of Yes Publicity Photo #4

The House of Yes runs through May 2nd, 2010 at The Artistic Home Acting Studio, 3914 N. Clark Street in Chicago. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 6:00pm. For tickets visit www.theartistichome.org or call 866-811-4111.

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Review: Brain Surgeon’s “1512 West Studebaker Place”

 Promising, if Incomplete, “1512 Studebaker” brings the Depression Era Alive

 singustobed

Brain Surgeon Theater presents:

1512 West Studebaker Place

conceived by Liz Ladach-Bark and Joseph Riley
directed by Liz Ladach-Bark
thru November 22nd (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

romance One thing you have to say about Brain Surgeon Theater’s latest production: they do crowded tenement right. In fact, 1512 West Studebaker Place maintains such a solid 1930’s tone, it’s hard to believe it’s a contemporary original production—the idea conceived by Liz Ladach-Bark and Joseph Riley, the play written and developed by the ensemble cast, with original music by Christopher Cole and Gwen Tulin. It has all the look and feel of a work that could have been produced from one of the New Deal’s arts programs. Even its incomplete finish does not diminish the ensemble’s achievement in the depiction of suffocating economic despair.

The production’s greatest strength is its realistic and cohesive integration of adult and child players. The Kelly family, headed by Stanley (Buck Zachary), wife Olivia (Katie Canavan) and sister Louise (Gwen Tulin), with their daughters Kate (Layla Kornota) and Suzy (Megan Bishop), live cheek-by-jowl with fellow borders Mim (Amy Gorelow), her niece Juliet (Laura Deger), writer Walter Lummet (Jacob A. Ware) and his little boy Mouse (Ethan Baum). Months of back rent are due to landlady Maggie Delaney, executed with absolutely sinister menace by Lauren I. Sivak.

Maggie Delaney walks in and out of their home without bothering to knock on the door. She involves Suzy in a secretive scheme. Bit by bit, she takes everything her tenants own—even callously wearing a hat that Louise has had to give up with the rest of her elaborate wardrobe.

itwillbeokay yougottagetadollar

But the Kelly family may be just as much at the mercy of Stanley’s unrealistic hopes of owning a toy factory, as they are the economy. In fact, as naturalistic as family and tenant interactions are in this play, what strains credulity the most is Olivia’s enduring, patient acceptance of Stanley’s pipedreams and procrastination. The weakest moments of the play come at the end. When there is finally nothing left for Maggie Delaney to take, everyone gets thrown out of the house. Even a dutiful 30’s housewife would have something to say in response to the loss of her home and the imperiled state of her children, but Olivia remains silent in the face of Stanley’s insipid reassurances.

walter'sshadow The children’s games and songs in the play say volumes about living in poverty, often more than the play’s text itself. The plot developments, such as the revelation of a hidden safe in the house and a budding romance between the silently despairing Mim and butcher’s assistant Clarence, played warmly and compassionately by Rob Grabowski, deepen the world of the play and provide relief to this work’s unending hopelessness.

The plaintive figure of Mouse, jeopardizing his life by crawling out his attic room window to sit and sing in a tree, remains one of the play’s most enduring images. What gets lost in a muddle on stage, at the end of the play, is the dramatic significance of Mim opening up and speaking to him–a problem that could be resolved with some clean up in direction.

1512 West Studebaker Place is still incomplete and audiences should consider it very much a work in progress. But the Brain Surgeons have gotten it this far. The bones of a really good play are there. Let’s hope they will take it the all the way home.

Rating: ★★½

 

Read additional Studebaker Place review, by Henry H. Perritt, Jr., by clicking on “Read more”.

   

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Review: 8th Annual ‘Cut to the Chase’ One-Act Play Fest

The Artistic Homes’ 8th Annual One-Act Play Fest, Cut to the Chase – go for the late-night fun and stay for the great acting.

Last Days of the Dinosaurs

Cut To The Chase
The 8th Annual One-Act Playfest

Palace of Riches, directed by John Mossman.
The Waiting, directed by Matthew Welton.
Last Days of Dinosaurs, directed by Luis Crespo.
Sponsored by The Artistic Home

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Late-night theater like this inspires a lot of drinking and frolicking among the audience, who are typically friends of the cast and playwrights, out for a bit of fun. Still, who would suspect that some of the best acting of the season could take place in a little known venue such as this? And yet it does. The dramatic skill and maturity of the actors makes The 8th Annual Cut to the Chase compelling theater to watch, even when sometimes the material is a little lacking.

The Artistic Home sponsors this one-act play fest each year, and, at least for this year, it seems each play must fulfill these requirements: they must start with the line, “Like most alcoholics, he drove a van . . . .”; they must make use of a gasoline can, a parking meter, and chicken on a silver platter; they must conform to a certain theatrical genre. Palace of Riches by Jim Lynch, though set on Chicago’s west side, seems to be based on Damon Runyon’s work; The Waiting by Christine Hodak seems to be pretty much a one-act mock-up of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot; and Last Days of Dinosaurs by Matt Welton is a surrealist train wreck.

Palace1 Lynch’s play, Palace of Riches,strikes the happiest balance between written material and actors’ talents. The down-and-out trio of Zeke (Eric Simon), Eddie (Tim Musachio), and Sara (Kathryn Danforth) could have degenerated into simplistic stereotypes, but all three actors exemplify the actor’s craft, displaying maturity, depth, timing, making human connections between all three characters that lie at the heart of the heart of this play. Humor that might have been too hokey in someone else’s hands comes off as witty, charming, and humane from these pros. Tim Musachio makes his Eddie almost valiant with the hope of someday being something more than “a mook” for his own daughter; Kathryn Danforth portrays a messy drunk with sympathy and humanity; and Eric Simon embodies the cunning resourcefulness, mischief, and even poetry that characterizes Zeke.

Waiting3 The Waiting practically rewrites half of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, but to what end? Beckett had a thing about not wanting women to take on roles in his plays and Christine Hodak creates a Pozzo-style character in Audrey (Samantha Church), worshipfully served by her own Lucky Joe (Buck Zachary)–complete with leash, suggesting some BDSM humor. Hodak also gives a satirical nod to women’s spirituality feminism with a little goddess-y ritual that Audrey performs before she departs from Oscar (Michael Denini) and Felix (J. P. Pierson). But what is the point to be made—that women can be as domineering and dictatorial as men? Forgive me for sounding a little jaundiced, but I lived through the Reagan/Thatcher years—that’s nothing new to me. The only pay-off in the end is the deeper development of Felix, who takes on a greater aspect of consciousness, even if he remains somewhat under Oscar’s control. But whatever its shortcomings, The Waiting benefits from the unflagging zeal, commitment, and nuance of the actors.

LastDays3 Sad to say, actor talent and commitment cannot save Last Days of Dinosaurs. Matt Welton has taken stereotypes—Alice (Liz Ladach-Bark) as the June Cleaver housewife, the flatfooted Cop (Matt Ciavarella), Carol (Marissa Cowsill) as the raving fundamentalist evangelical daughter, and Stephen (Kirk Mason) as the ravening Alpha-male son—and geared them all up for their own cataclysmic melt-down. While each character is introduced to good humorous effect, without deeper development, why should the audience care about them? Once one gets the joke and can see the train wreck coming within the first five minutes, what is there to hold one’s attention? What is more, each of these characters need greater development in how or why they identify as they do and what they want from each other, beyond the overplayed one-note of dominating the scene. It’s only the sexual titillation between Alice and the Cop that begins to branch out from the original premise. All the rest is shouting.

Still, The Artistic Home provides a vital space for new work. Go for the late-night fun and stay for great acting.

Rating: ««