Review: Stage Kiss (Goodman Theatre)

     
     

Cheap laughs mark time in Ruhl’s surface-skimming romantic fantasy

     
     

HE (Mark L. Montgomery) and SHE (Jenny Bacon) get lost in one another’s embrace as they perform as Johnny Lowell and Ada Wilcox in One Last Kiss -- the play-within-the-play.  (Photo: Liz Lauren)

  
Goodman Theatre presents
  
     
Stage Kiss
    
   
Written by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Jessica Thebus
at Goodman’s Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $17-$69   |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

Goodman Theatre and Sarah Ruhl have shared a fruitful relationship dating back to her 2006 The Clean House. Stage Kiss marks the MacArthur Fellowship winning playwright’s third production and first commission with the company, and with that, it may be time for Ruhl to reevaluate the details of that partnership. A two-year development process has yielded thin, runny results.

SHE’s daughter, Angela (Sarah Tolan-Mee), arrives at Laurie (Erica Elam)’s apartment to take her mother home.  (Photo: Liz Lauren)“What happens when lovers share a stage kiss…or actors share a real one?” Worthy question. Ruhl is a capable author to study it, too, having asserted her lyrical style and poignant insight into her characters’ romantic needs in previous, stronger works. This new play’s premise gets short shrift to accommodate Noises Off!-type metatheatrical slapstick silliness. If only Ruhl or director Jessica Thebus were more dedicated to exploring their substantial central theme, we’d be provided a better answer than ‘they fall down and go oomph.’

They also apparently seek refuge by escaping their own play, addressing the audience directly through occasional poetic spurts and barely integrated speeches. Stage Kiss’ most thoughtful moments are presented less as theater and more like essays. The nameless protagonist’s (Jenny Bacon) daughter (Sarah Tolan-Mee) ponders aloud why talented actors don’t seem to frown upon sleeping with talentless ones while, on the other hand, good painters seldom seem to sleep with bad painters. Elsewhere, a character articulates the difference between watching sex on film and sex on stage. Those interesting ideas are well phrased, but they come from Ruhl, not her characters. Action is totally halted during the speeches–just show us. Don’t tell.

     
Johnny Lowell (Mark L. Montgomery) meets Millicent (Erica Elam) in a scene from One Last Kiss.  (Photo: Liz Lauren) (l to r) Ada Wilcox (Jenny Bacon) and her Husband (Scott Jaeck) realize their daughter (Sarah Tolan-Mee) has run away with Johnny Lowell (Mark L. Montgomery) in a scene from One Last Kiss. (Photo: Liz Lauren)
(l to r) HE (Mark L. Montgomery), Laurie (Erica Elam), SHE (Jenny Bacon) and Harrison (Scott Jaeck) dance with one another to the tune of “Some Enchanted Evening.”  (Photo: Liz Lauren) (clockwise l to r) The cast of One Last Kiss (Jeffrey Carlson, Erica Elam, Sarah Tolan-Mee, Scott Jaeck, Jenny Bacon and Mark L. Montgomery) sits around the table as the director (Ross Lehman) speaks to them at first rehearsal.  (Photo: Liz Lauren)

Most of the two and half hours are instead spent satirizing the rehearsal process of a 1930’s Noël Coward-style play revival in which the married woman has been cast opposite her ex-lover (Mark L. Montgomery). The play-within-a-play jokes are decent enough, sometimes original and funny (“Why is everyone in this play named Millicent?”), but mostly easy and worn-thin. Ross Lehman is underplayed and hilarious as the production’s passive director, the all-too-familiar type that masks incompetence with friendliness. Pretending to be a bad actor is akin to pretending to be drunk; resisting temptations to exaggerate is probably for the best. The otherwise gifted Jeffrey Carlson does not and goes for broke as a gay, (potentially mentally disabled?) barely functioning bit-actor.

Decency doesn’t carry a show–once the novelty of the physical humor and accent-play wears off, there’s little else fleshed out to justify ludicrous character twists or the underdeveloped concept. Had Ruhl lived up to her potential and played to her strengths, she could have touched on some provocative ideas. Stage Kiss draws too thick of a line between romance and comedy for either to flourish.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

(center) Laurie (Erica Elam) confronts (l to r) HE (Mark L. Montgomery) and SHE (Jenny Bacon) as SHE’s daughter Angela (Sarah Tolan-Mee) and husband Harrison (Scott Jaeck) look on. (Photo: Liz Lauren)

Stage Kiss runs approximately two hours, 15 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

     

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REVIEW: Short Shakespeare! Macbeth (Chicago Shakes)

  
  

An exciting introduction to Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’

  
  

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Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents
  
Short Shakespeare! Macbeth
  
Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted and Directed by
David H. Bell
at
Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand (map)
through March 5  |  tickets: $16-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Ambition. Paranoia. Revenge. Political desires lead to a spiral of destruction and death. Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents Short Shakespeare! Macbeth, a 75-minute adaptation of the Shakespearean classic. A witch predicts Macbeth will be Thane then King. She also predicts Banquo’s sons will be King. Macbeth shares the Short Shakespeare! Macbeth, playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier.  Photo by Liz Lauren.prophesies with his wife. Lady Macbeth concocts a plan to expedite the process by murdering the current King and framing his staff. The Macbeths murder for the crown. A killing spree ensues to ensure retention of the throne. Although the power-hungry Macbeths are never satiated, their evil acts begin to gnaw at their sanity. Victim apparitions and bloody hallucinations plague their grip on reality. Short Shakespeare! Macbeth is a riveting adaptation with killer visual effects.

Under the adaptation and direction of David Bell, Short Shakespeare! Macbeth detonates from lights up. The talented and ever-moving 14-member cast enters and exits with a frantic urgency. This enthralling pace is enhanced by drumming and flashing lights. The fight scenes are dangerously authentic. The physicality is a choreographed murderous masterpiece. The majority of the cast is clad in black fatigue-like uniforms with boots. Their look, by costume designer Ana Kuzmanic, contrasts with the beautiful, oversized red silk tarp used effectively as a versatile utilitarian prop. The spectacle is a dark, bloody stunner. The entire ensemble delivers the action and verse with passionate perfection. Without leaving the stage, several performers morph into other roles with a minor clothing and major personality adjustment. Dorcas Sowunmi (Witch/Lady MacDuff) hexes with a supernatural presence and then transforms into haunting mortal fatality. Some other standouts, Lesley Bevan (Lady Macbeth) is insanely poignant. Mark L. Montgomery (Macbeth) slaughters with masculine intensity. Bernard Balbot (Porter) drinks up the comedy relief.

Short Shakespeare! Macbeth, playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier.  Photo by Liz Lauren.The ‘Shorts’ series purpose is to introduce adults and young people to classics. Having seen a three hour version of Macbeth a few months ago, Short Shakespeare! Macbeth is definitely an abbreviated, concentrated alternative. Before the show begins, one of the actors introduces the style of the Shakespearean prose. His shared analogy is imagining the verse like ‘listening to a new song.’ The newness requires time to begin to understand the words. Following the opening show, a fifteen minute Q&A was held with the entire cast and audience. It was another way to break down the mystique of Shakespeare’s works. For Short Shakespeare! Macbeth, I was joined by two young people. The fast-paced action kept their interest. Except for few points of clarity, the ten year old understood the basic storyline. In fact, she was intrigued to ‘see the movie’ or ‘read the book.’ The eight year old was confused but enjoyed the live theatrical experience. In their own words…

Dominque (10 years old): ‘good, non-fiction, real life,’ Kaleb (8 years old): ‘fantastic, realistic, cast is great’ and Lashawnda: ‘visual, choreography, understandable.’

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission

Short Shakespeare! Macbeth, playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier.  Photo by Liz Lauren. Short Shakespeare! Macbeth, playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier.  Photo by Liz Lauren.
      
         

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