Review: Bury the Dead (Promethean Theatre Ensemble)

  
  

Promethean Ensemble misfires in play about war

  
  

Quinn White, Carl Lindberg, Jared Fernley, Joel Kim Booster, Brian Pastor, Dylan Stuckey - Promethean Ensemble's 'Bury the Dead'

  
Promethean Theatre Ensemble presents
  
Bury the Dead
  
Wirtten by Irwin Shaw
Directed by Beth Wolf
at The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark (map)
thru May 21  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

When Irwin Shaw penned Bury the Dead in 1936, World War I was still lodged like an artillery shell in the American psyche. An astounding nine million combatants lost their lives fighting in the trenches of Europe in what would be the last war largely fought on foot. At the time, no one could conceive that greater methods of mass destruction were on the horizon and that more death lie in waiting.

Brit Cooper Robinson and Joel Kim Booster. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography.Although the play is not specifically about any war (according to the script, it is about a fictitious war that has not yet been fought), it is about the massive human toll that war takes and the desire for a society to forget the dead in an effort to pacify the psychic pain. This phenomenon that certainly existed post-World War I remains today. But today’s wars are oranges compared to yesterday’s apple battles. As societies have bled over borders and become global communities and mass communication is a "Like" button away, the dynamics of war that Shaw highlights do not stand the test of time. Vastly enhanced mobility and weapons technology have drastically reduced the number of causalities. Although military deaths are still a topic for discussion, personal freedoms, religious zealotry, resource acquisition, financial costs and nation building are the predominant concerns of today.

This is unfortunate considering the Promethean Theatre Ensemble decided to take the script, virtually untouched, and plop it into the present world (or more accurately 2013). What results is one of the most hilariously ill-conceived updated period pieces I have ever seen. Just take the opening scene. Two soldiers, presumably in either Iraq or Afghanistan, are shoveling sand graves for their fallen comrades as their sergeant stands watch. They begin smart-talking to each other, commenting on the smell of the bodies and the exhaustion felt from physical labor. But instead of speaking in the contemporary vernacular, the two soldiers sport hilariously anachronistic Brooklyn accents and use such words as "gyped" and "stiff." This would be fine if we were observing a couple of wise guys hanging out at the Black and Tan in 1930, but it’s just blatantly bizarre for 21st-century soldiers.

Besides the dialogue, which is only made more cringe-worthy by the scenery-chewing cast, the artistry of the story is non-existent. David Mamet has written that any play that serves to grandstand is not a play worth producing. Shaw’s play is one giant anti-war polemic. There is no devil’s advocate, no counter view that is meant to challenge our own preconceived notions of war. It is just a long diatribe that preaches to the choir. And today’s choir is too intelligent for this kind of preachy pandering. Challenge us. Make us question our views. The last thing an audience wants to do is wallow in the sense that we were right all along. When a soldier ruminates that "Kids shouldn’t be dead," you can just feel the audience collectively shouting "Duh!"

     
Shawna Tucker and Quinn White in Promethean Theatre Ensemble's 'Bury the Dead' by Irwin Shaw. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography. "Bury the Dead" Cast in Promethean Theatre Ensemble's Irwin Shaw play. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography.

The play is about seven dead soldiers who choose to stand in defiance and refuse to be buried and forgotten. In the second act, the military—in a remarkably chauvinistic move—contacts the soldier’s wives, mothers and sisters to coax them into the grave. What follows is a series of two-person scenes with more wistful gazing and maudlin emoting than a Lifetime movie. If you’re a fan of repetitious dialogue (e.g., "Let me see your face. Just let me see your face!"), be prepared to get your fill.

With Bury the Dead, Promethean Theatre has produced the equivalent of taking “Gone with the Wind” and setting it in China. This confusing and poorly thought out concept is further harmed by uneven performances and heavy-handed direction. Yes, the script certainly has its flaws, but with some clever updates, it could still have made for an entertaining watch. But save for a Katy Perry reference, the script seems strangely naive, turning what should be a tense drama into a bizarre farce.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

Marco Minichiello and David Fink in Promethean Theatre Ensemble's 'Bury the Dead' by Irwin Shaw. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography.

Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s Bury the Dead, by Irwin Shaw, continues through May 21st at The Artistic Home, with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $20, and can be purchased by phone (800-838-3006) or online. For more information, visit prometheantheatre.org.

All photos by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography, © 2011.

     

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REVIEW: Choose Thine Own Adventure (Filament Theatre)

An adventure worth choosing!

 

Choose Thine Own Adventure Image 2 (CMYK)

   
Filament Theatre presents
   
Choose Thine Own Adventure
   
Adapted from William Shakespeare by Allison Powell
Directed by Julie Ritchey
at The Underground Lounge, 952 W. Newport (map)
through December 11  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

With its fifth season opener, Filament Theatre Company wanted to explore what a Shakespearean theatre setting might be like in the 21st century. They were inspired by the groundlings who stood in the “yard” of the Globe Theatre to watch Shakespeare’s production, yelling, talking and being boisterous throughout the performance. They asked, “Why not embrace that rowdy, passionate side of the human spirit and perform Shakespeare as the groundlings would have wanted it?” Filament Theatre has done away with traditional theatre elements, tearing down the fourth wall and setting the show in a bar to see what can happen with their production of Choose Thine Own Adventure.

The Underground Lounge provides the setting for Choose Thine Own Adventure. The stage is set to look like a London stage circa the Elizabethean period. There are only a few set pieces, mainly a bench center stage that offers use as it is, as a balcony and as a boat to name a few. The bar atmosphere lends itself to the interaction between the actors and the audience. Pre-show entertainment gets everyone in the mood with music rocking out of the speakers while the actors play various games like ring toss with the audience. It’s rowdy, outgoing, lively fun and festivities that foreshadow what’s to come.

Choose Thine Own Adventure Image 3 (CMYK)As soon as Choose Thine Own Adventure begins, it’s clear that hilarity will ensue. The four person ensemble of Dromio (Marco Minichiello), Antonio (Ped Naseri), Bernardo (Omen Sade) and Rosalind (Mary Spearen) is equally strong and talented as they play both their roles and themselves as characters. The show opens with each cast member reciting various lines of Shakespeare. They ham it up and play it out the audience in a stagey but entertaining manner. It’s then made known that there’s a mix up as to what show is to be performed so the actors turn the choices to the audience. Completely tearing down that fourth wall between the stage and the seats, the audience is brought right into the action as the actors deliver various choices on where the action can go. Depending on the response they receive, Choose Thine Own Adventure can end in at least 20 different ways. Choices include where the scene should take place, what action should occur or whether it should be a comedy or a tragedy.

All four cast members are clearly comfortable playing off the audience and do so confidently. They are great with comedic timing and adlibbing lines for effect. Naseri in particular delivers some hysterically improved lines. Naseri, Sade and Minichiello have each created a unique persona for their character. Naseri cleverly plays into the comedy and the laugh lines. Minichiello excels at playing off and playing to the audience while reciting Shakespeare with skill, and Sade powerful stage presence allows him to fill the space. Spearen holds her own against the men of the cast, inserting her own wit and comedic talent as she plays opposite each man.

Choose Thine Own Adventure Image 1 (CMYK)The cast is fully engaged throughout the run of Choose Thine Own Adventure, which keeps the audience glued to the action, cracking up and laughing out loud for the entire one-hour run time. They are able to adjust to whatever the audience chooses – and then jump right into the action. While it is funny and entertaining, it is still Shakespeare at its core. The cast has a clear understanding of Shakespeare’s plays and delivers quality performances of the actual material while adding the fun and twists.

Choose Thine Own Adventure is both a well-done work of Shakespeare as well as a hilarious good time that’s full of laughs and lively action.  Filament Theatre has truly created an adventure worth choosing! 

    
   
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Choose Thine Own Adventure Image 4 (CMYK)

Choose Thine Own Adventure plays at The Underground Lounge, 952 W. Newport Ave., through December 11, 2010. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at http://www.filamenttheatre.org/tickets/

   
   

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