Review: The Maid of Orleans (Strangeloop Theatre)

  
  

Strangeloop’s ‘Maid’ not strange enough

  
  

A scene from Strangeloop Theatre's production of "The Maid of Orleans" by Friedrich Schiller.

  
Strangeloop Theatre presents
   
  
The Maid of Orleans
   
     

Written by Friedrich Schiller
Directed by Bradley Gunter
at Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland (map)
through May 29  |  tickets: $5-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

In the centuries since her fiery demise in 1430, the story of Joan of Arc has inspired volumes of plays. Shakespeare paints an unflattering picture of the girl in part 1 of Henry VI, seeing her as a scheming enemy of the English. Probably the most influential depiction of Joan (while not the most accurate) is Friedrich Schiller’s The Maid of Orleans, written a little over two hundred years ago. He dramatizes almost her entire life, from her shepherding origins to her death on the battlefield (I suppose burning someone at the stack was too hard to stage). His five act play inspired operas by Verdi and Tchaikovsky as well as a slew of films. Schiller is a major force in shaping Joan the cultural icon as we think of her today.

A scene from Strangeloop Theatre's production of "The Maid of Orleans" by Friedrich Schiller.With such a strong German history in Chicago, I’m always a little surprise the Teutonic greats don’t see more stage time. We have streets named after Schiller and Goethe. There’s a Buchner love-fest going on right now, and Brecht pops up every season (as he should)—but the Continent’s answers to the Bard are oft ignored.

Not by Strangeloop Theatre, who cram Joan’s epic venture onto the Trap Door stage stage. And they go balls to the wall, using a 1840s translation and avoiding flourishes. However, it’s an arduous, creaky journey, with brief moments of excitement punctuating long spats of monotony.

I left yearning for some unifying concept, something that would make Schiller’s ode more relevant. But director Bradley Gunter doesn’t bring much to the table, which is a shame because Joan’s story is so moldable and Schiller’s script so rich. Gunter puts up a very sobering production, one bordering on stale. They end up with a museum exhibit on their hands.

A lot of the problem is due to Anna Swanwick’s dusty translation. It’s in the public domain, I get it. But that also means you can change it up, zap it with modern sensibilities. Strangeloop could’ve taken a tip from the Woyzeck Festival and put up an adaptation, probably coming up with something much more zesty. In order to ask an audience to sit through a two and a half hour ordeal, a production needs more conviction. The audience deserves more effort than those that conjured up this production put forth.

     
A scene from Strangeloop Theatre's production of "The Maid of Orleans" by Friedrich Schiller.q A scene from Strangeloop Theatre's production of "The Maid of Orleans" by Friedrich Schiller.
A scene from Strangeloop Theatre's production of "The Maid of Orleans" by Friedrich Schiller. A scene from Strangeloop Theatre's production of "The Maid of Orleans" by Friedrich Schiller.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything noteworthy about Strangeloop’s creation. If you really, really crave Schiller or the Joan of Arc story, it’s worth a peek. And the swordplay, crafted by Libby Beyreis, adds much needed jolts of excitement.

In general, it’s a well-acted play, even if many of the supporting performances seem as stiff as the translation. Letitia Guilaud’s wide-eyed Johanna (Joan) is a joy, kicking loads of butt for France. She bobbles in more vulnerable scenes, especially one moment where she awkwardly sings to the audience. Yet Guilaud is petit and ferocious, all that we want Joan to be. Paul Tinsley takes great relish in playing the English scoundrel Talbot, and we feel it in the house. One of my favorite performances was Jodi Kingsley’s Queen Isabel, who sides with the English against her native France. She grips onto the language with grace, making the text oddly modern. It’s what the rest of the production aspires to be.

The production values are too simple to work well, especially costumer D.J. Reed’s decision to put everyone in modern dress. Nothing else feels modern, so the shirts and ties feel like a cheap and easy substitute for real period dress. Quite simply, Gunter’s vision lacks innovation. Joan was leading whole armies as an uneducated teenager. We at least owe her some creativity.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

The cast from Strangeloop Theatre's production of "The Maid of Orleans" by Friedrich Schiller

     
     

Continue reading

REVIEW: Ring around the Guillotine (Chemically Imbalanced)

Time travel for the jilted

 

ratg

 
Chemically Imbalanced Theater presents
 
Ring Around the Guillotine
 
Written by Chris Tawfik and Anthony Ellison
Directed by Anthony Ellison
at
CI Theater, 1420 W. Irving Park (map)
through May 23rd (more info)

By Katy Walsh

The cure for being dumped? Finding love in an unexpected place and time… like a prison 600 years ago. Chemically Imbalanced Theater presents Ring Around The Guillotine, a lustful comedy about time travel. In modern day, Tyler is drinking away her break-up. Her supportive coworker gives her a gift of an antique ring and rose. Putting on the ring, Tyler is transported back in time to Magical France. The country is in duress. The queen and king are mourning the death of their daughter and lamenting the ambitions of their son, Carvier. Tyler beams into Carvier’s jail cell, who has been sentenced to the guillotine for killing his love, Princess Camille. Tyler is Camille’s splitting image. Ring Around The Guillotine is a soap operatic comedy with new age mystique against a renaissance backdrop.

This cast knows how to have a good time. They’re trying to not only crack up the audience, but also each other. Emily Harpe (Tyler) is hilarious as a messy drunk rebounder. Ashley Thornton (Beth) is the career-minded pizza manager with amusing fixations on her employees and work policies. Ross Compton (Randy) animates his scenes with chuckle-worthy delivery. Guillotine-licking Mat Labotka (Felipe) is the creepy prince playing over-the-top queen to Connor Tillman’s (Chester) straight man. Tillman’s dead pan slaps the punch line. The entire ensemble, with collective bios boasting extensive improv training, is a riot!

cic From the moment of arrival, you’re plunged into two stories. The contemporary story is relatable. Jilted girl, weirdo manager, pizza – got it. The period piece story is more challenging. It’s elegantly delivered by Jo Scott (Queen) and Martin Monahan (King), but the significance of what is occurring isn’t quickly digestible. Anthony Ellison directed and co-wrote Guillotine with Chris Tawfik The basic story is interesting and the dialogue is witty. At the same time, however, some of the initial scenes in Magical France don’t explain the set up clearly. The back and forth time travel adds to the delayed clarity. Scene changes go dark; a few of the transitions seem unnecessarily long. But this is allayed by the fact that energetic Cyndi Lauper soundbites fill the transitions, so “She Bops” provides a necessary distraction from an over-long break. Pop music, gags galore, people making out – Chemically Imbalanced Theater has invited you to party with them. Plus it’s BYOB and they’ll provide the entertainment.

 

 
Rating: ★★½
 

Running April 9-May 23. Fri & Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm. Tickets $15. Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

Continue reading