Review: Agnes of God (Hubris Productions)

  
  

What is truth and what is a miracle?

  
  

Sara Pavlak, Lorraine Freund, Barbara Roeder Harris - Hubris Productions' Agnes of God

  
Hubris Productions presents
   
Agnes of God
  
Written by John Pielmeir
Directed by Jacob Christopher Green
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through April 16  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The human mind is a miraculous and wondrous thing. In the play Agnes of God, not only is an atheist asked to suspend logic, she’s also asked to question the nature of miracles in modern times. Hubris Productions presents a luminous and beautifully acted production directed by Jacob Christopher Green. The moment I sat down and looked at the set, I was transported back to the convent adjacent to my grammar school. It was stark and yet serene in its simplicity, just like the OSP convent of my childhood. There is a desk that serves as a place of authority for both Mother Miriam Ruth and Dr. Livingstone. Otherwise, it’s the ascetic and well-scrubbed world of a religious order.

Barbara Roeder Harris, as psychiatrist Dr. Livingstone, shines in the role of someone who is appointed to deem whether a horrific act was insanity or murder. The emotional range required of the Livingstone character would be Grand Guignol performance in the hands of a lesser actress, but Harris’ Livingstone is a perfect balance of restraint and fierce protector, determined to discover the truth even at the risk of her own beliefs.

Lorraine Freund (Mother Miriam Ruth) inhabits the habit. I was stunned at how much she recalled my second grade teacher, Sister Vienny. Here, Mother Miriam Ruth is a tightly wound character who unravels with surprising profanity and knowledge of the real world outside the cloistered convent. Freund plays Mother Miriam with a sly sense of humor, a steel-trap mind, and a warped protectiveness. Mother Miriam chose the world of contemplative religious life after a perceived failing at the art of being a wife and mother who raised two angry atheists. The question lingers – did Mother Miriam need a miracle to renew her faith, or does she manipulate a mentally ill girl to cover a deep lack of faith?  Freund is ramrod straight, shielded by an otherworldly calm. She is chillingly wonderful and the nun of my nightmares.

Sara Pavlak (Agnes) literally has the face of an angel. She is heart-wrenching as a naïve and abused girl who has never seen the outside world. Agnes would possibly be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome as well as Disassociative Identity Disorder in these modern times of needing a label for everything. This Agnes is buried in her trauma and possibly a miraculous anomaly that cannot be explained. The stigmata that bursts from her hands is a shock that draws audible gasps from the audience. Ms. Pavlak so deeply inhabits the pure novitiate that the viscera of blood on her gleaming white habit is almost obscene. One cannot imagine this innocent waif being invaded by the carnality of intercourse but when she is in the throes of hypnosis-induced orgasm there is a raw sensuality that is at once powerful and transcendent.

These three actresses play seamlessly off of each other. The timing and movement is very important in such a stark production. There is not much room for missteps and they make none.

Jacob Christopher Green’s direction is seamless and well modulated. This is a drama that has the potential to go way over the top, and agonizing to watch (as in the case of the 1985 film featuring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, and Meg Tilly). Playwright John Pielmeir’s script is made for the subtleties of the stage and for understated performances that explode and knock you back in your seat. Brava ladies, Bravo Mr. Green, and kudos to Hubris Productions.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Agnes of God runs through April 16th, with performances Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 3:00pm. Performances are at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln. Tickets are $25, and can be bought online or by calling 773-404-7336.

The 2011 season of Hubris Productions will donate portions of their proceeds to Humboldt Park Social Services. It is the Hubris mission statement that they provide entertainment, inspiration, education, and charitable giving. It is a worthy cause and definitely worth your time in the theater.

  
  

REVIEW: Steel Magnolias (Hubris Productions)

Hubris production could use a touch-up

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Hubris Productions present
  
Steel Magnolias
   
Written by Robert Harling
Directed by
Lavina Jadhwani
At
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
Through July 31  | 
tickets: $25  | more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

steel magnolias_005The 1989 film version of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias is one of the definitive chick flicks of all time: empowering, hilarious, emotionally devastating, and featuring one of the best female ensembles ever assembled on screen. Harling’s characters are southern women bursting at the seams with charisma, and they require the  larger-than-life personalities of a Dolly Parton or Shirley Maclaine to make their struggles spectacular. Directed by Lavina Jadhwani, the actors of Hubris’s Steel Magnolias lack the energy that makes these characters enthralling, resulting in a plodding production that never makes it to the emotional heights that the script has become known for.

Harling’s play depicts the key moments of diabetic Shelby’s (Sara Pavlak) adulthood – her wedding, pregnancy, motherhood, etc. – and how these events affect her mother M’Lynn (Stephanie Wooten-Austin) and other women of Chinquapin, Louisiana: salon owner Truvy (Calidonia Olivares), sardonic widow Clairee (Sharon Roseri), eccentric curmudgeon Ouiser (Lorraine Freund), and new girl Annelle (Jessica Maynard). In Truvy’s salon, these six women argue about wedding colors, gossip about local ladies, and experience the occasional breakdown in an environment free of testosterone. On paper, the generations-spanning assortment of personalities should be quite entertaining, but the potential of the characters isn’t reached by the ensemble.

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From the very opening scene it is obvious that Steel Magnolias needs a lot of fine-tuning: the actors stumble over lines, the comedy revolves too heavily on gags (Annelle drops things! A lot!), and Truvy’s hair is way too flat. That last one is just mind-boggling, as big hair should be at the top of any designer’s checklist for this show. As the production continues, the lack of chemistry between the actors makes it apparent that there is still much character work to be done, starting with a much needed jolt of electricity to the dull performances.

   
   
Rating:★★
   
   

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Review: Bare Boned Theatre’s “The Hecubae”

The Hecubae Strains Between Ancient Poetry and Horrendous Modern Reality

Polyxena (Beth Allin, R) awaits sacrifice by the Son of Achilles  

Bare Boned Theatre presents

The Hecubae
by Rebekah Walendzak and Jeffrey Brouthiette
directed by Jeffrey Bouthiette
Running through Sunday, August 30th  (buy tickets)

What is Hecuba to us or we to Hecuba? The obvious answer could lie in the present-day struggles of women eking out an existence in war torn camps for displaced The ghost of Polydorus possesses the women of the chorus (clockwise from left: Cynthia Shur, Lorraine Freund, Sienna Harris, Emily Friedrick). persons. Bare Boned Theatre’s playwrights Rebekah Walendzak and Jeffrey Bouthiette have attempted to mesh the excruciating suffering of contemporary women in the midst of war with Euripides’ classic tale of a war-devastated queen. Unfortunately, what they have gained may be just equal with what they have lost in the process. Furthermore, substantial lack of clarity in some scenes may ruin the theatrical experience for those unacquainted with the original work.

On the plus side, the general shift in the play, from Hecuba surrounded by her attending women to the women being refugees in a contemporary camp, strengthens the Greek choral moments of the original play. Directed by Bouthiette, the unity of The Hecubae’s all-women cast is resilient and undeniable. Moments of song evoke the greatest power and hope for their survival.

One Greek choral moment in the beginning, however, must be thoroughly revised for greater clarity. The choral performance of Hecuba’s youngest child being killed by a trusted friend and ally is far too confusing. And the use of a woven mat to represent her child is far too amateur for this production.

Hecuba (Samantha Garcia) grieves the death of her daughterBare Bone’s modernization of Euripides becomes more effective with smaller touches—such as when a soldier with ruined legs, mounted on a makeshift cart, wheels onstage to tell Hecuba the latest bad news. The scene where Odysseus uses graphs to explain how Hecuba’s daughter will be sacrificed ranks as a near-perfect portrayal of rationalized brutality. Casting the young Samantha Garcia as Hecuba follows Bare Boned Theatre’s philosophy of non-traditional casting, yet Garcia’s command of Euripides’ poetic language conveys her Hecuba as noble as well as fallen.

How sad it is, then, when this adaptation splits scenes in such a way that poetry and dramatic tension are lost. Then contemporary travesties only obscure, instead of enlighten, Euripides’ words and drain away the potential for Hecuba to stand for all women in war.

Hecuba (Samantha Garcia, left) watches Hec015

It’s back to the drawing board for the playwrights. They must strive once more, not only to sustain a dramatic arc through crucial scene changes between the ancient and modern camps, but also to personalize and particularize the suffering of modern women in war for a truly meaningful adaptation. In general, clichéd representations of women’s suffering or victimization do not move people. People can feel sorry for the women represented in such a drama, but they cannot become emotionally engaged with their suffering as audiences should be.

Euripides knew how to make his deeply sexist, predominantly male Greek audience identify with Hecuba–with her powerlessness, her outrage, and her descent into dehumanizing violence. He could pull them from their positions of male privilege and plunge them into the profound depths of loss and despair that women in war know. We should be so lucky to have the same done to us.

Rating: «
 

Full Cast: Beth Allin, Lorraine Freund, Emily Friedrick, Samantha Garcia, Sienna Harris, Earlina “Earl” McLaurin, Cynthiaq Shur

Creative Team: Mike Smith (lighting design), Jeffrey Bouthiette (sound design), Matthew Buettner (scenic design), Aly Greaves (costume design), Chris Radar (Stage Manager)