REVIEW: The Rant (Mary-Arrchie Theatre)

Mary-Arrchie’s ‘The Rant’ Illuminates and Devastates

Mary-Arrchie's "The Rant"

Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents:

The Rant

by Andrew Case
directed by Sharon Evans
at
Angel Island Theatre through March 28th (more info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Much about Andrew Case’s play The Rant masquerades as a typical cop show. There are interrogations with guys in police uniform across bare tables under unforgiving lights. All the same, the play’s dialogue is too whipsmart for television. It’s subject—an investigation of police misconduct—pushes beyond the conservative boundaries of cop/good-perp/bad formulas dominating network television. Finally, the sophisticated handling of media relations between public and police is all too knowing and wise.

rant2 Case invests eight years’ experience on police misconduct issues for New York City into this no-holds-barred one-act, and it shows—like a house on fire. The result is a sorely needed resuscitation of public dialogue on the hope of preserving justice in a system hideously compromised by racism, truncated by police cultural codes of loyalty and silence, and all too often cynically betrayed by the fourth estate.

Public Advocate Lila Mahnaz (Lindsey Pearlman) wants to get at the truth. The autistic son of Denise Reeves (Shariba Rivers) has been shot and killed during a police response to a call. Her own background as an Iranian Persian-American, informs her view of police behavior with jaundiced skepticism and almost revolutionary fervor. Her pursuit of the truth takes her down a winding road that exposes police corruption, the exploitation of and by the press, and the comprehendible, but frustrating, unreliability of witnesses. Her progress acts as a great meditation the difficulty of getting to the whole truth, encompassing many of the pitfalls of well-meaning advocacy.

Director Sharon Evans’ superlative cast nails this intelligent drama to the wall. Rivers’ aggrieved Denise, mother of the slain boy, packs a lifetime of angry suffering into every uttered syllable—it’s a weight she both resignedly shoulders and also wields as a weapon against her detractors. Pearlman’s public advocate displays the earnest pluck and self-righteousness of youth running smack into the roadblocks of police obfuscation and threats. At the same time, she is forced into confronting the barriers created by her own relatively privileged life. Earl Pastko as Mahnaz’s clandestine journalist contact, Alexander Stern, is perfectly sharp, jaded, neurotic, and totally New York. “I no longer believe in facts,” says Stern, “I believe in leverage.” Emanueal Buckley’s performance as Officer Charles Simmons potently rounds out the play. His sorrowful closing monologue seals the play’s mounting despair on the possibility of ever seeing justice done.

TheRant-Press1I’m of two minds about Heath Hays’ rough and ready set design. At times the primitively constructed flats—clear plastic stretched over wooden frames–serves Matthew Gawryk’s visceral lighting design superbly and fits the anarchist vibe of the Mary-Arrchie Theatre to a T. At other times it seems too ghetto-fabulous for its own good and there’s no need for that here. The play is already gritty and fabulous. The cast is rock-solid fabulous. Mary-Arrchie has a hit on its hands. Audiences should run, not walk, to see it.

 

Rating: ★★★★

 

Photos by Sharon Evans

Continue reading

Review: Mary-Arrchie’s “How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found”

Fin Kennedy’s witty dialogue drives suspenseful production

Mike-Charlie

Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company presents

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found

by Fin Kennedy
directed by Richard Cotovsky
runs through Dec. 20 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

London ad executive Charlie Hunt’s world is disintegrating. He’s just cremated his mother. His all-consuming work leaves him no time to go anywhere or meet anyone, and he’s more and more bothered by a belief that everything in his life is fake. He’s putting massive amounts of money up his nose, his colleagues are asking disturbing questions and he keeps hearing a buzzing in his ears.

Doctor-Charlie Pushed to the edge, one day he simply runs out of his office, leaving his jacket on the back of his chair and his mum’s funeral urn on his desk, and they never hear from him again.

Charlie is the central character of the intriguing "How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found" by rising young British playwright Fin Kennedy, now in Midwest premiere from Mary-Arrchie Theatre at the intimate Angel Island theater. How to Disappear was the first unproduced play in 40 years to win an Arts Council John Whiting Award for New Theatre Writing, after — according to the playwright — being rejected by nearly every theater in London.

Kennedy’s razor-sharp language, exhibited in powerful monologues and witty dialogue, builds a rising suspense as Charlie runs from his former life. Carlo Lorenzo Garcia puts in an intense and fascinating performance as the deteriorating Charlie, expounding on all the frustrations of daily life that all of us experience but few of us act upon. He’s excelled only by the impish Kevin Stark, as Mike, the small-time crook who serves as Charlie’s mentor in disappearing.

Director Richard Cotovsky‘s clever staging adds to the frenetic quality of the work. He gets excellent work from the supporting cast, most of whom play multiple characters — Charlie’s colleagues, chance-met strangers, doctors, telephone operators, etc. James Eldrenkamp stands out in a comic role as a London transit worker, juxtaposing ably with Charlie’s stuffy, upper-class boss.

Dialect coach Kathy Logelin must be an effective teacher — the cast handles class-conscious British with scarcely a stumble. They haven’t spent much on the set, but Scenic Designer William Anderson‘s 2-by-4 and newspaper backdrops contribute effectively to the disjointed, surreal quality of the play.

Sophie-CharlieAlthough there’s no program credit or reference to it in the script, "How to Disappear" was clearly inspired by the classic manual of the same name by Doug Richmond, first published in 1986 by the late, lamented underground publisher Loompanics Unlimited. In one the best scenes in the show, Charlie’s mentor, Mike, explains the techniques in detail. They’ve been updated — with references to SIM cards and Facebook — and slightly adapted for the U.K., but readers of the original will recognize the mechanics as Richmond explained them two decades ago. Whether they still work in these post-9/11, security-conscious days is debatable. Then, as now, it depends on who you want to get away from.

In Charlie’s case, it becomes increasingly clear that that’s himself.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Notes: Second-floor theater has no wheelchair access. Paid parking may be available at the Mobil gas station across the street.

PHOTOS BY RYAN BOURQUE

Continue reading

Review: A Red Orchid Theatre’s “Mistakes Were Made”

It was all my fault

 Mistakes Were Made2

A Red Orchid Theatre presents:

Mistakes Were Made
by Craig Wright
directed by Dexter Bullard
extended through October 31st (but tickets)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Craig Wright, Emmy-nominated writer of the hit HBO series Six Feet Under, has created in Mistakes Were Made an entertaining and intelligently witty play, even as Oscar Nominee Michael Shannon is alone on stage throughout most of the play; his time spent engaging in frantic phone conversations, as well as therapeutic talks with his close companion Denise, his fish.

Mistakes Were Made3 Felix Artiflex (Michael Shannon) is desperately trying to put together a new play starring only the best actors and directors. He is frantically making promises beyond his control; doing anything he can to make this project a reality. Felix is a desperate man after losing someone close to him (his daughter?). We do not actually know much about his personal life, but we can tell by the way he works that there is a void in his life and a happiness that he is searching for. Felix has made some grave mistakes in his life, but he believes this new world premiere play about the French Revolution is his chance at redemption and achievement. In his attempts to fulfill all of his desires, he loses everything once again, but finds a small sense of happiness when he faces his own humility.

The stage is Felix’s office, and looks like an old fashion producer’s office from back in the 1970’s. I was surprised when I noticed that this play was taking place in relatively the present day, but considering the lack of money that sometimes comes from working in theatre, some offices no doubt still look like that in 2009. Tom Burch has designed the office littered with drama books, scripts and paperwork. Pictures of actresses and actors, that one assumes Felix has worked with in the past, are hanging on the walls. Pushed away, almost hidden amongst the paperwork and business memorabilia, are a few scattered kid’s toys showing us that there is or was a child that would come around his office.

The make-up artist Nan Zabriskie does an extraordinary job. She makes Shannon looked aged, not as an old man aged by years but by pressure and stress. Shannon’s cheeks look sucked-in, making it appear as if his skin hangs just a bit against his bone structure and his eyes look stressed like a man who hasn’t been able to relax for years.

Mistakes Were Made5 This is a piece that the audience can relate to; the fight to get others to share in your vision and the struggle to escape hardships and find better, more respectable days in the future. Craig Wright’s writing is wonderfully done, including the emotional complexity involved when working while your personal life sits in the back of your mind. Wright has written a variety of characters that Felix interacts with over the telephone creating gripping twists in the plot line, as well as a nice interjection of intelligent humor. Having some knowledge of theatre and classic plays does increase the impact of some of his jokes: since Felix is a theatre producer, the jokes are industry friendly.

The performance by Shannon lives up to the hype, as he portrays the driven attitude of a man nearing the end of his career, reaching for something that he can achieve and hold on to. I felt as if I had an idea of what had happened to Felix and how his life had reached this point. Shannon gave Felix depth and a personal past through his display of tense emotions. We have a sense that he is missing the love and respect of someone in particular without it having to be specifically said. The constant busy-ness of jumping from conversation to conversation is made light and humorous with the pleasant interruptions by the secretary, Esther, played by Mierka Girten.

Even with this gripping performance, the play was too long for a basically one man act. While watching one of the best solo performances I have seen the man next to me feel asleep, and I began to get a serious leg cramp. I recommend this show because it is a rare opportunity to see an outstanding actor perform an intelligently written piece just ten feet away from you. It is an amazing experience to watch Michael Shannon capture the whole essence of Felix’s character, although an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission is just a little too long to watch even this man.

Rating: «««

Mistakes Were Made is playing at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 North Wells St., Chicago, Thursdays – Sundays and has now been extended through October 31.

Continue reading