Review: BRAINPEOPLE (UrbanTheater Company)

  
  

Examining the relationship of magic, passion and faith

  
  

Brain People - Urban Theatre 6

   
UrbanTheater Company presents
  
BRAINPEOPLE
 
Written by José Rivera
Directed by
Marti Lyons
at
Batey Urbano, 2620 W. Division (map)
through Dec. 12  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Before the lights went down for “Brainpeople” at the UrbanTheater Company (UTC), co-artistic director Madrid St. Angelo told the audience that we were in for some delicious language. This is an authentic description of Jose Rivera’s language and UTC’s spellbinding production. Writer José Rivera is possibly best known as the Brain People - Urban Theatre 9 screenwriter for “The Motorcycle Diaries”. He is also renowned in the theater world as a torchbearer for the Magical Realism genre. From the moment I walked in to Batey Urbano, I could feel the vibe that I remember so fondly from my days in Puerto Rico and not so fondly what I call post Catholic Terror Syndrome.

The set is a carnival of crucifixion imagery, dark wood, and reds to reflect the fires and riots in a not too distant future Los Angeles. It is an unsettling mixture of the surreal and the sublime done to perfection by scenic designer Jorge Felix. There is a muscular image of Jesus tethered to a tree dying or resurrecting in religious ecstasy. Along side this is a grotesque post-mortem painted in icy shades of blue.

Marilyn Camacho plays the mysterious and enticing hostess named Mayannah who once a year invites two strangers to dine with her. Amanda Powell plays the role of Rosemary and Kate Brown is Ani. Ms. Powell gives a tour de force performance as a woman with disassociative identity disorder- or is it possible that she is a channel for more sinister motives? One moment she’s a tentative guest named Rosemary, then Rosalyn, then Rosie and the list continues impressively. Each of Ms. Powell’s characters is done to a perfect comic or terror inducing affect, providing a searing reality check to Rosemary’s flights of illusion.

Mayannah resides in a wealthy grotto of Los Angeles where everything is available with the right amount of money. Hers is a languid existence punctuated by sirens and threats of police violence on her social inferiors. In fact, one can presume that this is a riff on present day Los Angeles, where fantasy and reality are blurred for the world to purchase a ticket. Mayannah’s anniversary repast is offered with the promise of a cash reward if her guests make it to dessert.

Brain People - Urban Theatre 8Ani and Rosemary are willingly subjected to a night of transubstantiation and the mental stigmata of an abandoned child longing for what she calls her unbroken self. Mayannah believes that if the energy of the soul can be consumed, it can also be absorbed and reborn. This is no simple tale of reincarnation or anything that I ever learned in catechism classes. Rivera’s story turns long-held tenets and beliefs on their heads by revealing the underside of learning them. The darkest creases of the mind emerge when society breaks down to martial law and, finally, anarchy. The character of Ani is a portrayal of an individual named for the lost civilization of Armenia. Ani comes to dinner to get the payout and leave the country to find real love and forget that she has a ‘PhD. in all the shitty forms of love’. It is Ani’s character that makes the connection to Mayannah’s soul’s longing while Rosemary sits in a catatonic daze absorbing and healing from her own childhood terrors. All three actors play off of each other with a dizzying rhythm of wordplay balanced with smoking hot sensuality.

Rivera has written dark and acerbic wit for these women. The characters are refreshingly free of stereotypes and shallow characterizations.

The UTC production is the Chicago premiere of BRAINPEOPLE. It is that rare meeting of cast, direction, and location that produces a transporting experience. UTC was formed to bring cutting edge experiences to the theater through diversity and roots in the Latino community and they hit a bull’s eye with BRAINPEOPLE. UTC founders Ivan Vega, Madrid St. Angelo and Marilyn Camacho have something truly special to offer to the theater community of Chicago. Go see this show!

   
       
Rating: ★★★½
    
   

Brain People - Urban Theatre 7

This show has a short run from November 12th through December 12th at Batey Urbano 2620 W. Division in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. More information is available on UrbanTheater Company check out www.urbantheaterchicago.com or call 312-239-8783.

   
   

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REVIEW: The Love of the Nightingale (Red Tape Theatre)

This eerie ‘Nightingale’ sings a refreshingly resonant tune

REDTAPE THEATRE - Photo 1

  
Red Tape Theatre presents
  
The Love of the Nightingale
  
by Timberlake Wertenbaker
directed by
James Palmer
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 621 W. Belmont
(map)
through May 29th  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

reviewed by Barry Eitel

I’m not going to lie, my expectations weren’t so high when I entered the space for Red Tape Theatre’s newest production, The Love of the Nightingale by Timberlake Wertenbaker. The last (and admittedly, only) show I saw by them, last season’s Enemy of the People (our review ★½), was pretty weak. That said, I was completely blown away. Directed by Artistic Director James Palmer, Red Tape’s Love of the Nightingale was refreshing, bizarre, and remarkably resonant.

REDTAPE THEATRE - Photo 2 Nightingale explores the ancient Greek myth of Philomele who, as all those mythology buffs out there will tell you, was transformed into a nightingale after some pretty traumatic experiences. And given that it’s written by Wertenbaker, you can bet the whole story is given a feminist twist. Palmer and his enormous cast explode the story into life, ripping it from its ancient Greek context and filling it with anachronism and theatricality. Set designer William Anderson builds a completely new space within the heart of the gym in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The set is its own little world, encircling the audience and featuring plenty of hidden drawers, doors, and other surprises. Palmer’s production is intensely physical, demanding the actors throw all they got out on-stage, just a few inches from the audience.

The story tells of the relationship between Philomele (Meghan Reardon), her sister Procne (Kathleen Romond), and her brother-in-law and King of Thrace, Tereus (Vic May). For those unfamiliar with the Greek myth, Procne asks her husband, Tereus, to bring her little sister out to Thrace for a visit. He sails over to Athens to pick her up, but things get a little heated on the trip back. Through a brilliant choice, the play is shaped and revealed by an almost silent dollmaker/carpenter/puppetmaster (Robert Oakes), who seems compelled to tell this unsettling story to us.

The dream team of designers Palmer amassed has concocted a marvelous world. Ricky Lurie’s modern-dress costumes are stunning, reveling in the uncanny style Palmer has set out. The suits and dresses are bright and colorful, contrasting sharply with the terrifying depths the play plunges towards. Anderson’s set is simple enough REDTAPE THEATRE - Photo 2 to hold all of the different scenes required in the text, yet exudes its own bizarre essence. This is all pushed by Palmer, who moonlights as lighting designer, and his fetish for flickering fluorescents. The show is eerie and surreal, sometimes a dream and sometimes a nightmare.

Although the performances are at times outdone by the incredible design, there are some choice actors here. Romond’s tortured Procne is excellent; although the character doesn’t feature much in the original myth, here we’re entranced by her struggle. As Philomele, it takes Reardon a scene or two to hit her stride but she gets there, especially as the play gets heavier. May does great work as well, finding both Tereus’ sliminess and his royalty. For such a small stage, the cast is massive. However, they all fit the play extremely well, and everyone out there is required for the world to work as well as it does.

Much of the chorus is used in choreographed movement that surrounds the audience, trapping them into Philomele’s tragic tale. However, sometimes the movement pieces overstay their welcome and reach into repetitive territory, then our interest flags. The play calls for plenty of brutality, but Zack Meyer and Claire Yearman’s fight choreography doesn’t really hack it. It works well technically, but doesn’t have the piercing specificity the rest of the show has.

From their The Love of the Nightinggale, it is clear Red Tape has an aesthetic that works for them. Hopefully, they’ll expand and explore more of what made this play great. If Red Tape keeps churning out work like this, they’ll become a tiger of the storefront scene.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
 

REDTAPE THEATRE - Photo 2

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