REVIEW: Candida (ShawChicago)

 

Shaw explores love by choice rather than passion

 

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ShawChicago presents
    
Candida
  
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Robert Scogin
at
Ruth Page Theater, 1016 N. Dearborn (map)
through November 8  |  tickets: $10-$22   |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

Everyone loves the Morells but nobody wants to talk about it! ShawChicago presents Candida, George Bernard Shaw’s play about love in and outside the marriage. In 1894 London, Reverend James Morell is in demand on the lecture circuit. His social reform stance has made him a celebrity. His idolizing fans place him on a pedestal. The Reverend enjoys the adoration of his followers including his favorite admirer, Candida –his wife. Life for the Reverend is worship as usual until a young man declares his own love for Candida. Not just that, the young man proposes he’s better suited for her because he’s totally focused on HER happiness. Over a hundred years later, Shaw’s deconstruction of love is timeless humor. In the formalized culture of the time period, love is and isn’t discussed with apologies and controlled emotion. Shaw scrutinizes a marriage to a husband, who has a healthy sense of self. When one confession leads to another, love happens. Candida is a humorous debate of the meaning of love without feelings.

George_bernard_shaw As is ShawChicago’s style, Candida is performed as a staged reading. No sets. No costumes. Under the direction of Robert Scogin, it’s all about Shaw’s words interpreted by a talented cast. Matt Penn (Morell) has controlled intensity as the Reverend. His bursts of rage are a surprising contrast to his confident public self. The target of the anger, Christian Gray (Eugene) plays the young confessor of love with nervous energy and a hint of evil intent. Gray provides a complex version of the love opponent with poetic horrors. Barbara Zahora (Candida) is coarsed-grain. She lives in her husband’s world but maintains her own identity. Zahora charms with a strong sensibility. Lydia Berger (Garnett) is hysterical as the uptight typist. A victim of a secret love, Berger is sharp-tongued with delicious bitterness.

Jack Hickey (Mr. Burgess) assesses the ‘madness’ around him with humor and a strong working class English accent. Sparring with Berger, Kaelen Strouse (Lexy) is also crushing on the Reverend with a sweet devotion. This cast magnificently flirts with all the aspects of unrequited love.

Undoubtedly, Candida shocked the turn-of-the-century audiences. Today, it still surprises for its ageless topic, love. In 2010, love is expressed with emotion. Uncontrollable passion drives people together and apart. It’s not so much a decision to love, as the fated outcome of animalistic urges. Perhaps we should all channel our inner Shaw for lively intellectual debates on love before going heels over head.

Critics, like other people, see what they look for, not what is actually before them. –George Bernard Shaw

   
   
Rating: ★★★
    
   

Running Time: Two hours includes a fifteen minute intermission

   
   

REVIEW: Love’s Labour’s Lost (Oak Park Festival)

A Labour of Love in Oak Park

 

Oak Park Festival Theatre's Photos - Love's Labours Lost 002

   
Oak Park Festival Theatre presents
  
Love’s Labour’s Lost
   
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by
Jack Hickey
at
Austin Gardens, 100 block North Forest, Oak Park (map)
through August 21  |  tickets: $20-$25  |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Okay – sitting in the park on a buggy summer night is not exactly my idea of fun. There has to be something of worth to make this kind of sacrifice. I took a loaner lawn chair from the box office and was grateful to see that the park provided insect repellant for a voluntary donation. I gratefully slipped a buck in the jar and took my place on the lawn in Austin Gardens. There was a lovely pre-performance from the newly formed Oak Park Opera Company. A soprano and tenor performed selections from Verdi and Puccini to warm up the crowd. The music was quite beautiful and set the mood for a very cultured evening.

Oak Park Festival - Love's Labour's Lost 21011 The cast from the play mixed about on the perimeter of the stage, playing bocce in the characters of men at court. When the action began it flowed smoothly as if they really were bystanders in the park.

Love’s Labour Lost is not as popular as other works written by Shakespeare, despite the facts that it is one of his funnier plays. The language is less convoluted and ornate – but it is that simplicity that makes this a deceptive pleasure. The audience gets more of a voyeuristic look into life and the social games that may have occurred in the Elizabethan court.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of Shakespeare’s earlier comedies, setting the bar for future farcical comedies full of ribaldry and mistaken identity. Comedy requires a cast to work hard without appearing to try. Kudos to the cast of the Oak Park Festival Theatre for pulling off this feat with grace and skill in spite of a sound system that battled the seemingly endless parade of air traffic overhead and blaring night insects below. Also, a little program coordination would be in order so that the actors don’t have to compete with amplified street performances a block over.

I was able to tune out the distractions for the most part as the play unfolded. Adam Breske as King Ferdinand shone as the pompous monarch setting an impossible social standard on his young attendants. Joseph Wycoff played the Lord Biron with sparkle and a wink to Walter Matthau. Mr. Wycoff has a great face for the frustration and trickery that ensues. It is Lord Biron who is the last of the king’s court to agree to a vow of celibacy and intense scholarship. It is Wycoff who shows the best and funniest reaction as the one who admits his own hypocrisy last when all are revealed as having broken their vows.

Oak Park Festival - Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost

The performance of Stephen Spencer as Don Adriano de Amado – a fantastical Spaniard – is a wonderful mix of buffoonery with Kabuki subtlety. Mr. Spencer is also a wonderful speaker of Shakespeare’s rhythms with sharp and well-placed inflections. No pun is left unturned without perfect inflection hitting the target each time. Charlie Cascino makes brief but crazy energetic appearances as Country Wench Jaquenetta.   Ms. Cascino’s mischievous smile and frisky demeanor are perfect for scenes with the clown Costard, played with equally great skill by Bryan James Wakefield.

Richard Henzel plays the character of Holofernes, a character is pivotal to the wonderful confusion and double takes that ensue with letter exchanges and identities. Henzel is a Chicago theater veteran and takes firm command in this role. The scenes between Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel are comic gems. Two of the audience’s favorite performers are the thoroughly enjoyable Skyler Schrempp as Oak Park Festival - Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost 2Don Armado’s attendant Moth and Robert Tobin as Dull the Constable. They both have a gift for physical comedy and verbal timing.

Love’s Labour Lost is not one of Shakespeare’s best works in regards to women roles. Katherine Keberlein is regal as the Princess of France, but she and the other ladies in waiting do not match the frenetic energy of the people in King Ferdinand’s court. This is partially due in part to Shakespeare’s interpretation or society women of the late 1500s, as well as the also the directing choice of reigning in the female cast a bit more than the male cast members, which is a wise choice by Artistic Director Jack Hickey.

All in all, Shakespeare Under The Stars is a great idea.  You will have to make some concessions for the environmental sounds that hinder full enjoyment, but a night out in a wonderful town with a big city feel more than makes up for this. 

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

 

Love’s Labour Lost plays through August 21st at Austin Gardens in Oak Park. The park is a block away from both the Metra and the Green Line. If you take the Metra please pay attention to the schedule as it has an intermittent nature (Metra schedule). It could happen that you end up in Wheaton like I did. Go early to catch the great sidewalk sales and community energy that is Oak Park. Be aware that Oak Park basically closes the sidewalks at 9:00, so either arrive in Oak Park early enough to dine at a restaurant before the performance, or bring a meal and a beverage (wine is allowed) because there is nada après theatre to be had. Check online at www.oakparkfestival.org for availability and ticket information. Bring your insect repellant or at least leave a tip in the donation jar if you use the park’s resources.

   
   

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REVIEW: The Philanderer (ShawChicago)

A no-frills sophisticated comedy

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ShawChicago presents:

The Philanderer

Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Robert Scogin
Ruth Page Theatre (1016 N. Dearborn)
Thru March 1st (more info)

By Katy Walsh

Leonard wants to marry Grace as a way to finally break-up with Julia. Although this sounds like the plot of the next Hugh Grant romantic comedy, it’s not. ShawChicago presents The Philanderer, a play written by George Bernard Shaw in 1893. Unlike many contemporary movies, The Philanderer is a sophisticated comedy with many layers of humor. On one level, the love affairs are discussed with polite sensibilities. Whether it’s the prudish time period or British formality, love is an unemotional state. Another dimension of absurdity is the Ibsen Club. Most of Shaw’s characters are members of this new-age association requiring members to denounce being a “womanly woman” or “manly man” to generate true equality of the sexes. The club’s premise must have been shockingly hilarious at the turn of the century. Even in modern times, it’s still funny. Encouraged by the young men, women are smoking and drinking in the “old boys club” and it’s freaking their fathers out.

With the tradition of producing shows more like readings, ShawChicago stages The Philanderer without scenery, costumes or other design elements, thus relying heavily on the talents of its playwright and its cast to stimulate the audience. And this talented cast delivers, providing brilliant dialogue with British wit.

Lydia Berger is outstanding as Julia Craven. Berger scores the emotional character and plays it out to the maximum. Very much a “womanly woman”, Julia’s club membership is threatened by her tendency to resort to crying to manipulate men. Berger is hilarious in her struggle to be less womanly. Kevin Christopher Fox is the philanderer, Leonard Charteris. Fox amuses as the nonchalant playboy. Without any hint of self deprecation, Fox states he’s not gallant, handsome or well-dressed. In a very matter of fact manner, Fox takes no responsibility regarding why women keep falling in love with him. Making a smaller role memorable, Richard Marlatt has a ludicrous melt-down as the bumbling physician, Dr. Paramore. Even though the show is auditory, as Col. Craven, Skip Lundby looks very natural saying words like “vexed” and “confounded.” Despite the presence of the script, most of the cast have memorized their lines. On occasion, when an actor resorts to actually reading, there is stammering.

Throughout, ShawChicago showcases its namesake George Bernard Shaw with The PhilandererWithout the distraction of movement on a stark stage, Shaw’s words are the focus. With clever twists and entertaining banter, Shaw wittingly promotes his social agendas of the time period still relevant a century later: feminism, casual sex, animal testing, medical research, and vegetarianism.

CRAVEN: … How jolly it must be to be able to go to the theatre for nothing! I must ask him to get me a few tickets occasionally. But isn’t it ridiculous for a man to talk like that! I’m hanged if he doesn’t take what he sees on the stage quite seriously.

CHARTERIS: Of course: that’s why he’s a good critic. Besides, if you take people seriously off the stage, why shouldn’t you take them seriously on it, where they’re under some sort of decent restraint?      *Act I: The Philanderer

 

Rating: ★★★

Review: ShawChicago’s “Votes for Women!”

We’ve come a long way, baby

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ShawChicago presents:

Votes for Women!

by Elizabeth Robins
directed by Robert Scogin
thru November 9, 2009 (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Inadequate health care coverage, conservatives versus liberals, rumors of a politician’s past sexual indiscretion? No, Votes for Women! isn’t the story of Hillary Clinton’s rise to power. In fact, actress and playwright Elizabeth Robins wrote the work over a hundred years ago. Set in England in 1907, Votes for Women is about a naïve heiress introduced to the Suffragettes’ movement by the former lover of her political fiancé. ShawChicago’s production is a 100-year anniversary replication of Votes for Women! being introduced to Chicago.

Before the show even commences, the lack of scenery on stage is a bit perplexing. Chairs, music stands, and bottles of water suggest a reading – not a play.

Initially, the authenticity to the time period is appreciated. Later, after a series of monologues, a craving for visual stimulation and modern-day editing defeat any nostalgic notions. Distractive music and pounding offstage vie for attention during particularly long lectures. The stellar cast tries to overcome the lack of action with facial expressions and limited gesturing. Joseph Bowen (narrator/various voices) is fascinating playing characters with a variety of accents. In Act II, the juxtaposition between Suffragette’s speeches was intriguing. Melinda Moonahan (Working Woman) uses a lower class dialect bluntness to rally support. Lydia Berger (Ernestine Blunt) addresses with an educated and amplified oration. And Suzanne Lang (Vida Levering) delivers a personal and passionate plea. As the heiress, Barbara Zahora’s (Jean Dunbarton) love struck innocence engages compassion for the “poor little rich girl.”

Ironically, throughout the performance, one is torn between “we’ve come a long way baby” and “we got the vote, so what?” Yes, women can vote, own property, and run for President. On the other hand, the harsh and superior judgment of single mothers, welfare recipients and average-looking women continues to be prevalent. Regardless, however, Votes for Women is an important illustration of the evolution of thought regarding women’s rights. Hopefully by the 200th-anniversary production, women will have secured equality to men and each other.

 

Rating: ««

 

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Review: Oak Park Theatre Festival’s “Fifth of July”

The sequel to Wilson's acclaimed Talley's Folly, which was produced by Festival Theatre in 2007. Set in rural Missouri in 1977, it revolves around the Talley family and their friends, and focuses on the disillusionment with America in the wake of an unpopular war. At once poignent and marvelously funny, Fifth of July is a compassionate portrait of a generation trying to decide whether to abandon their past or find the courage to cope with it and to begin anew. In 1978 Fifth of July was nominated for the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best new play and the Tony Award for Best Play. For 35 years, the Oak Park Theatre Festival has used its outdoor location to give their productions an authentic vibe and to allow their audiences to enjoy the summer weather while enjoying theatre. This works particularly well for staging Shakespearean works, which, after all, were originally produced in an open-air setting. In more recent years they have staged more modern plays in their slice of Austin Gardens’ park, carefully selecting plays that already have an outdoor setting, like William Inge’s “Picnic.” Set in the front rooms and yard of an old Missouri home, Lanford Wilson’s Fifth of July is a perfect fit for the festival’s aesthetic. Considering the production runs through June and July, it also helps that the play takes place on Independence Day and the morning following. The play is perfectly suited for a staging in a park, but the story and themes are muddled in their current production by some indecisive approaches to the play.

Fifth of July is part of a trilogy documenting the American experience of the Talley family living in Lebanon, Missouri, including the 1980 Pulitzer Prize winner, Talley’s Follies. The play takes place in 1977 and showcases the disillusionment of that era. The protagonist, Kenneth Talley, Jr. (Stef Tovar), is a gay Vietnam veteran who lost his legs in the war. His sister, June Talley (Lydia Berger), was a former hippie and now is struggling as a single mom. Both of them find little to celebrate on Independence Day. They have a big gathering of family and friends, including their Aunt Sally (Kate Kisner) and married friends John and Gwen (Brandon Dahlquist and Rebekah Ward-Hays). The holiday festivities quickly sour when friends and family start bickering about jobs, custody, and the price of the Talley household.

5th of July - poster Pamela Maurer and Alexis Vejar’s set, basically a house with select cuts made in a few of the walls, makes great use of the surroundings. The setting allows for some great stage pictures; conversations could be happening in one area of the house while other characters can be chilling out on the porch or lawn, lighting up the entire space instead of just one corner.

While director Michael Weber succeeds at balancing the stage, he fails at telling a truly cohesive story. It was difficult for me to follow any particular narrative. Important plot points weren’t really served up in any way, voiding the production of an accessible story. Instead of juggling the multiple subplots while supporting Ken’s main story (a decision of whether or not to return to teaching at his old high school), all of the stories were muddled together and none of them came out fully formed. Most of the performances were decent, although some were too over-the-top. A problem that a couple of actors had, which also contributed to the garbled narrative, was synthesizing high emotional distress almost without warning. Instead of building the tension, characters would be chatting to one another and then one would be shouting or crying all of a sudden, which doesn’t work with Lanford’s script. A technical issue that might have added to this was that the set was littered with floor mics, which I suppose helped the actors’ voices compete with passing planes and cicadas, but they also amplified every step and door slam to a distracting level. It might be a necessary evil in order for the dialogue to be heard, but it also took a toll on the overall storytelling.

Still, the Oak Park Theatre Festival is a good time, and is especially suited to summer in Chicago. One thing I learned from the locals, though, is that you should bring plenty of wine, food, and bug spray. Enjoying theatre al fresco, even if it’s not of the highest caliber, is still its own fun experience.

Rating: ««½

 
Cast and Crew
Lydia Berger (June)
Danny Bernardo (Jed)
Brandon Dahlquist* (John)
Charles Gardner (Wes)
Glynis Gilio (Shirley)
Rebekah Ward-Hays (Gwen)
Kate Kisner (Sally)
Stef Tovar* (Ken)
Kieran Welsh-Phillips (u/s Gwen & June)
Director: Michael Weber*
Stage Manager: Robert W Behr*
Costume: Ricky Lurie
Lights: Jeremy Getz
Sound: Kyle Irwin
Set: El Fish
House Manager: Jeff Weisman
Box Office: Mary Liming
* denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association