Review: The Buzz that Is the Buzz (Curious Branch Theatre)

     
     

Mighty mind blowing

     
     

The Buzz That Is the Buzz - Curious Branch Theatre

   
Curious Theatre Branch presents
  
The Buzz That Is the Buzz
   
Written and Directed by Beau O’Reilly
at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston (map)
through April 10  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Heaven only knows what to make of The Buzz That Is the Buzz–or why it all hangs together as well as it does. Is it the fun of riffing on bad guys, whether they’re the most treacherous of villains, like Shakespeare’s’ Richard the Third or the old-style street thugs with a lingo all their own? Is it the play’s oddball mix of slackers/hipsters with down-and-out private eyes and excessively specialized gay shopkeepers? Curious Theatre Branch has brought a lot of curious avant garde things to light but Beau O’Reilly’s world premiere play gives audiences a hallucinogenic trip where every odd move and play on words fits just right and gels into a funky seamless whole. Then again—maybe it’s those damn chickens, freaky harbingers of guilt and doom and just plain freakiness. Idiot chickens!

Based on a play that was never written, a collaboration between O’Reilly and William Shakespeare called “The Doom In the Bud,” The Buzz That Is the Buzz pursues the aftermath of the evil deeds of Lord Agit (Jayita Bhattacharya), which are twice performed by the cast in shadow pantomime form. O’Reilly’s utilizes movement and shadow theater not only to underscore the work’s random, dreamlike theatricality but also to distance the audience from the characters they are seeing. Lord Agit quotes lines from Richard the Third with self-conscious, almost cartoon-style villainy. But Bhattacharya’s portrayal cannot be received any more heavily than Matt Rieger’s interpretation of Con, a gangster and hit man with a sense of beat poetry about everything he observes. Con’s accompanied by his muscle, Randy (played with tight-jawed hilarity by Beau O’Reilly), who’s obsessive pre-occupation with safety forms its own safety hazard.

Both old school Chicago gangsters are followed by Benny Benjamin (Brian Collins), a cop turned private detective, who’s face was burned in a fire set by Con after he’d dispatched two lives on Lord Agit’s commission. Benny follows the thugs through their various wanderings, as they make contact with people far outside their world–therapists, gay shopkeepers and hip youngsters taking their first crack at selling a drug called “the mighty mind blow.” It turns out that Lord Agit has her origins in the mighty mind blow and that the whole of the world of the play just might have its origins there, too.

More than anything else, the work is a kaleidoscopic interplay of words and movement and images—and somehow, in some mysterious part of the medulla oblongata, it all comes together brilliantly. Evil and its consequences and regret meet with curiosity, dialogue and a bit of healing power to connect. Most of O’Reilly’s characters are haunted; those damn chickens especially haunt Lord Agit, but the mad whirlwind of friends and strangers strangely juxtaposed with each other goes on. I suppose just the fact that they’re talking to each other at all is a celebration of a more hopeful world than the one we’ve usually got.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Artists

Cast

Kelly Anchors, Jayita Bhattacharya, Brian Collins, Courtney Kearney, Stephen Lehman, Beau O’Reilly, Matt Rieger & Jordan Stacey

Production

Beau O’Reilly (director); Joseph Riley (set design); Diane Hamm (costumes & masks).

  
  

Rhino Fest 2011: A Fruit Salad of Fringe

  
  

A Fruit Salad of Fringe

  
  
Astronaut - Lemonade Stand - Strange Lupus Theatre Currency by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Spores of Eden by Peter Axel Komistra  
       

All plays reviewed by Paige Listerud

Time simply won’t allow for a thorough review of all the productions curated for Curious Theatre Branch’s 22nd Annual Rhinoceros Theater Festival. But an initial smattering might give you a glimpse of the good, the bad, and the deeply uncertain. Chicago’s fringe theater scene is clearly a subculture that depends on prior acquaintanceship—to know which fringe theater companies have a solid reputation for good work and which are still finding their feet and their voice. The following is a truly random selection of Rhino Fest 2011, a fruit salad of fringe, if you will, chosen for variety within the first weekends of the festival—many more productions remain throughout its 5-week run (through February 13). Check out the rest of its schedule.

Prop Thtr    

 All performances @ Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston (map)

 

    
All The Flowers Are Dead - Curious Branch Theatre All That Fall by Samuel Beckett - at Rhino Fest

 

Curious Theatre Branch presents
 
All That Fall/All the Flowers Are Dead
 

All That Fall by Samuel Beckett

Judith Harding, Matthew Kopp, Kate O’Reilly, Meg Hauk and Beau O’Reilly beautifully revived this Beckett radio play, all the while seated at a table crammed with hats and various noisemakers for special effects. Mrs. Rooney (Harding) takes a sojourn from her home to the train station where she means to pick up her husband. Along the way, she runs into various neighbors who may be a help, a hindrance, a peril, or a temptation to her. Beckett’s love of the cadence of language out of Irish mouths suffuses All That Fall, even when characters acknowledge that they are speaking a dead or dying language. It’s a play in which the old survive, even through complaining about the weariness of going on. Youth is either dying or removed by more insidious means. Curious’ production was so charming, rich and evocatively rendered, it’s a pity they will not be performing All That Fall past the first weekend of Rhino Fest. This production truly deserves a remount. If their production of Mexico, a poem play by Gertrude Stein is done half as well, then Chicago audiences are in for a real treat.

All the Flowers Are Dead, written and directed by Matt Rieger

Matt Rieger’s script is almost American Primitive in its construction and dialogue. Two households live in grinding poverty and predictable misery. Jerome takes care of his ailing mother, hoping that his new job planting flowers for the Park District will give them a better chance. His girlfriend, Rusty, gives him a bicycle to get to and from work but she also pressures Jerome into further commitment. Meanwhile, Augie has to contend with his dad, Nicky, for whom another drink is always the right decision and mom is no help when she finally stops pressuring Nicky to find employment and joins him in drink. Sadly, the first half of Rieger’s play is too plodding and the dialogue too boilerplate to capture the imagination. The play only comes alive once Nicky, to regain his son’s affection, steals Jerome’s new bicycle to give to Augie. The play’s conclusion is devastating but takes far too long to get there, making All the Flowers Are Dead a work in progress more than a completed play.


Astronaut - Lemonade Stand - Strange Lupus Theatre

   
Strange Lupus Theatre presents
  
Lemonade Stand
  
Written by Jordan Scrivner
Directed by
Ernest J. Ramon,
Sasha Samochina and Jordan Scrivner
thru Feb 10  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

It looks like another sunny day at the beach with a lovely young woman, Laura (Jessica Bailey), tending her humble and homey lemonade stand. But, in fact, it’s a way station on an asteroid at the other end of a wormhole, through which astronaut Alexander Russell (Ken Brown) has been propelled from his position on Earth’s moon. How did he get here and how will he get back—or go forward, since time and space have been thoroughly transcended? Laura’s answers Alex’s questions rather cryptically, plus the pair faces interruptions from a thoroughly goofy Professor (Crispin Rosenkranz), an affable and romantic delivery guy (Ernest J. Ramon) and a Russian gal (Sasha Samonchina) in disco attire. Strange Lupus’ production still looks rough around the edges–what with Brown coming off more like a confused actor than a confuse astronaut and Rosenkranz’s daffy, congenial professor still in need of refined comic timing. As is, Scrivner has a charming and profound script with Bailey and her delivery guy holding the production’s center. Simple but effective lighting effects from Maria Jacobson and Shannon Penkava, paired with Ramon and Samochina’s sound design, give Lemonade Stand its out-of-this-world vibe.

Featuring: Ken Brown, Jessica Bailey, Crispin Rosenkranz, Ernest Ramon, Sasha Samochina, Tommy Heffron, Paul Scudder

Sound Design by Ryan Dunn and Sasha Samochina


Currency by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman

   
Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Duo present
   
Currency
    
Performed by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman
More information

Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman have the consummate professionalism of a longstanding comic team. While undoubtedly their short theater pieces contain comic moments, their real intent is to go to the center of human movement, habit and meaning. “Coffee Cup Duet” establishes the rhythm of a simple business meeting over coffee, as well as the rituals inherent in meeting and needing transactions wherein coffee and its accoutrements establish the common ground. “’Napse” is a mysterious and unearthly piece, combining Glassman’s commonplace movements with the gargling, choking, chewing, distortions and whispers Glassman conjures from a small mic saddled in his cheek. One never knows where Glassman is going next with the world he creates from each garbled sound. The suspense alone leads to a finish that unites the everyday with eternity. “Time and Again” examines the stop and start repetitive habits of a couple over the issue of when to return a book to the library. Fay and Glassman’s timing is impeccable and interrogates the very coming and going, leaving or staying that makes a relationship. “Homeland” hits the hardest, with a solitary housewife moving backward in time, from the moment she weeps into a phone in her hand to the violation of her home that has provoked her upset. The piece chillingly depicts where we are now.


"The Spores of Eden" by Peter Axel Komistra, now playing at Prop Thtr as part of Chicago Rhino Fest

   
Two Weeks Productions presents
  
The Spores of Eden
    
Written by Peter Axel Komistra
Directed by
Dylan S. Roberts
thru Feb 12  | 
tickets: $12  |  more info

Agatha (Lisa Herceg) and her daughter Linda (Cathlyn Melvin) spare it out over the last egg out of a dozen Agatha has set out in an Easter egg hunt for Linda to find. Not finding the 12th egg, Linda gives up and refuses to go looking for it, even when it begins to rot and stink up the house. A battle of wills ensues when Agatha keeps replacing the rotten egg for Linda to find and Linda keeps refusing to go in search of it.  Decay becomes the only thing the two women know and seems to be the only thing by which the Father (Paul Cary), speaking posthumously, endorses—or so we think. Everything remains at an impasse until Topher (Rory Jobst), Linda’s banished brother, arrives one evening to try and understand his banishment and his wayward life ever since. Peter Komistra seems to not know what to do with characters with such implacable wills as he has crafted here. While the cast does an admirable job with Komistra’s language, the characters themselves only oppose or undermine each other but never reach any kind of clear and creative rapprochement. While it’s thoroughly legitimate to return the play’s circumstances to the same decaying state in which they begin, the conundrums of seeking or failing to find renewal also receive a muddled treatment in the course of the work. The Spores of Eden needs a strong editorial hand and clarification—and it may also benefit from not leaning so heavily on the “Book of Genesis”.

  
  

Mexico - Curious Branch Theatre - Chicago Rhino Fest