Review: Radio Golf (Raven Theatre)

        
     

Wilson’s thought-provoking drama has a whole new relevancy in 2011

     
     

Warren Levon, Demetria Thomas, Michael Pogue in Raven Theatre's 'Radio Golf'. Photo by Dean LaPrairie.

  
Raven Theatre presents
  
Radio Golf
  
Written by August Wilson 
Directed by
Aaron Todd Douglas
at
Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark Street (map)
through April 9 |  tickets: $30  |  more info 

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

It’s only been six years since Radio Golf, the tenth and final work in Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson’s “Pittsburg Cycle, premiered at Yale Rep.

A lot has happened in six years.

In that time, certain middle-upper-class white signifiers prominently featured in this 1990’s-based drama have taken a dip from grace. Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, lucrative condo investments and, well, Tiger Woods…let’s just say they aren’t what they used to be. “Unemployment” has knocked out “affluenza” as the country’s go-to economic buzz-word, Chicago just watched a mayoral campaign season with similar Harold Washington-era fears about equal race representation and, oh yeah, America elected its first non-white president.

Michael Pogue, Demetria Thomas in a scene from Raven Theatre's 'Radio Golf' by August Wilson. Photo by Dean LaPrairie.Yesterday, this show about a wealthy young black man running for mayor of Pittsburg was contemporary. Today it’s a period-piece, a quality that only adds to its resounding ideas.

The timing of director Aaron Todd Douglas’ production feels perfect. With just enough distance and room for perspective, we get to see the protagonists’ superficial goals and misplaced trusts with an unwavering knowledge of the consequences—something Wilson, who died in 2005, never got the chance to witness for himself. I wonder if he knew he was creating a prescient work of theatre.

As candidate Wilks, Michael Pogue conveys idealism and an eagerness to please his community, listening to its grievances and welcoming citizens into his private office, a space traditionally reserved for the shady deals that are kept far away from picture-windowed PR campaign centers. Time goes on and compromises need to be made, such as the necessity to petition a neighborhood for blight status and the unethical demolishing of a delinquent taxpayer’s house. A little more arc in Pogue’s demeanor would be compelling. But like the rest of this cast, Pogue finds the rhythm in Wilson’s dialogue most of the time (the poetic allegories are clear and strong), steam-rolling it a bit here and there.

David Adams is the most consistent and entertaining of the bunch. Patient and methodical as the stubborn but righteous owner of the dilapidated property at 1839 Wylie Ave.—a brick house that stands in Wilks’ way between continued suburban poverty and a massive, gentrifying real estate complex—Adams carries the weary but proud burden of a man who values what’s right. Blue collar local Sterling Johnson (Antoine Pierre Whitfield) does likewise. Both actors nail Radio Golf’s comedy with complementing styles: Adams understated and Whitfield abrasive.

It makes me wonder about 2012. 15 years after this story takes place, how much of “the game” will be the same, and who gets to play?

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Warren Levon, Michael Pogue, and David Adams in Raven Theatre's 'Radio Golf' by August Wilson. Photo by Dean LaPrairie.

Radio Golf continues through April 9th, with performances Thurs. through Sat. 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $30, and are available by calling 773-338-2177, or online at RavenTheatre.com.

 

 
 

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REVIEW: Lobby Hero (Redtwist Theatre)

     
     

Redtwist’s near-perfect lesson on late-night discretion

     
     

  Andrew Jessop (Jeff), Eric Hoffmann (Bill), Maura Kidwell (Dawn)

  
Redtwist Theatre presents
   
Lobby Hero
   
Written by Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by
Keira Fromm
at
Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through Jan 2  |  tickets: $20-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Redtwist Theatre’s Lobby Hero, under the direction of Keira Fromm, is so organic, natural and spot-on in its shifting moods and comic timing, you’re guaranteed to get that fly-on-the-wall feeling from start to finish. Step into this lobby’s peachy and cheerfully bland environ, complete with Christmas tchotchkes, and you might be fooled into proceeding to the elevator. Picture window exposure of the street lends even greater veritas, especially when actors playing police officers have to contend with joggers, shoppers and curious passers-by for sidewalk space.

 Maura Kidwell (Dawn), Andrew Jessop (Jeff)At least for the night shift, this is the domain of the doorman, Jeff (Andrew Jessop), a fairly sweet slacker dude with a sharp sense of the ridiculous, helplessly coupled to a real motor-mouth problem. Of course, it doesn’t help that Jeff’s easy-going nature leads others to confide in him beyond the normal boundaries of discretion–so perhaps speaking before thinking isn’t just Jeff’s shortcoming. But, much like a bartender, being the late night guy who’s there to talk to puts Jeff in the crossfire between his boss William (Michael Pogue) and two beat cops, Bill (Eric Hoffman) and Dawn (Maura Kidwell).

Jessop doesn’t hit a wrong note in his blithe portrayal of Jeff’s affable lack of boundaries or appropriateness. One hardly knows if he decided in his youth on a policy of truth or if he simply can’t help compulsively saying what he thinks. Yet, whether he’s revealing his sexual fantasies to William or telling Dawn how much he wishes he had Bill’s overweening self-assurance, so that he could get away with the asshole stuff Bill gets away with, it becomes quite clear that Jeff has no sense of where he is, who he is talking to or what the ramifications of his speech could be.

So it is that Kenneth Lonergan’s humorous, quicksilver script flows easily and smoothly from this cast, with Jeff centered directly at its funny bone. But Jeff also sits at the center of peril once William, who Pogue plays with wound-tight perfection, confides to Jeff that his brother may have been involved in a terrible crime and now wants William to provide him with an alibi.

Michael Pogue (William), Andrew Jessop (Jeff)If William’s secret were Jeff’s to bear alone, there might not be any problem. But as police partners Bill and Dawn, Hoffman and Kidwell convincingly convey a menacing police presence–even as they humorously fuck up their own relationship. Kidwell’s Dawn may be a baby on the force, but she already has the intractable bearing of a cop who can commit violence in one minute and excuse it the next. Bill, for his part, works like the Mafia, backing up William’s dubious alibi for his brother at the precinct solely as a way to implicitly gain favors. One of the other comic highlights of this production is how Hoffman delivers Bill’s bad-cop excuses with stalwart conviction.

Kidwell generates laughs simply by playing an impeccable straight woman in Dawn’s growing relationship with Jeff. But Jeff hardly knows with whom he is dealing as he flirts with Dawn or wisecracks at Bill. By the end of the play, he learns full well just how little power he has in this dynamic. Lobby Hero relies upon ever-shifting circumstances to underline the ambiguity of making moral choices. Basically it comes down to this: when can the little guy tell the truth? When it’s safe for him to tell it. It’s a hard lesson in discretion to learn. No doubt, other late-night guys have had to learn it.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Maura Kidwell (Dawn), Andrew Jessop (Jeff), Eric Hoffmann (Bill)

  

Lobby Hero runs: Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun, 7:30pm through Sunday, January 2nd.
Please Note: There are no performances on 12/24, 12/25, 12/26, 12/31, 1/1. There are no matinees.   Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, includes one intermission.

  
  

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REVIEW: Night and Day (Remy Bumppo Theatre)

 

The Real Story Vanishing in the Dead of Night

 

Ruth (Linda Gillum) unleashes her rage over the death of Milne at Guthrie (Jeff Cummings) in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, Sept. 22 through Oct. 31 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.  Tickets at www.remybumppo.org or 773-404-7336. Photo by Johnny Knight.

   
Remy Bumppo Theatre Company presents
   
Night and Day
   
Written by Tom Stoppard 
Directed by
James Bohnen
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through October 31  |  tickets: $35-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

What to make of Remy Bumppo’s latest production Night and Day? On one hand, the whole production is a sexy, easy fit. James Bohnen’s spot-on cast slips casually and effortlessly into Tom Stoppard’s dialogue–just like an old-school lounge lizard would slip into a dry martini or a pair of silk pajamas. On the other hand, what with the United Nations releasing its recent report on atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Wagner (Shawn Douglass) risks an upclose interview with dictator Mageeba (Ernest Perry, Jr.) in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, Sept. 22 through Oct. 31 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.  Tickets at www.remybumppo.org or 773-404-7336. Photo by Johnny Knight. Congo, Stoppard’s cunning 1978 play still looks like a bunch of white people sittin’ ‘round, talkin’ while a country made up of darker-skinned people burns all around them. Set in the fictional African nation of Kambawe, the home of copper-king ex-pat Geoffrey Carson (David Darlow at our showing) is hardly the Court of Versailles. Nevertheless, on the brink of civil war, who has time to talk about fickle fame, sex, Scotch or the role of the media? These characters do.

Into this jaded milieu, Stoppard interjects the question: Does a free press matter? Define what you mean by a free press, etc. It’s this et cetera that Bohnen’s actors handle so well. Dick Wagner (Shawn Douglass), an Australian-born reporter for the Globe, solidly provides most of the sly, tough cynicism through his omnipresent worry over getting scooped. His colleague and comrade, photojournalist George Guthrie (Jeff Cummings), brings battle weariness and much-needed urgency and passion to a very talky show. Greg Matthew Anderson, playing freelance journalist Jacob Milne, achieves likeability and freshness with a character who sees no problem with blurring the line between serious and tabloid news. If Night and Day reveals anything, it’s Stoppard’s gift for prophecy.

These few, these happy few, descend on Carson’s home, much to the chagrin of his wife, Ruth (Linda Gillum), because he possesses an untapped, unsevered line and a Telex machine to get the news out to the West. They are the true seekers of the story,  since the rest of Western press is still hanging out in the lobby of the local Sheraton. Carson also has connections with the rebel leader, Colonel Shimbu, whose Ruth (Linda Gillum) seduces young reporter Milne (Greg Matthew Anderson) in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, Sept. 22 through Oct. 31 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.  Tickets at www.remybumppo.org or 773-404-7336. Photo by Johnny Knight. scheduled late-night meeting with the dictatorial President Mageeba (Ernest Perry, Jr.) leads to devastating consequences.

Politics aside, Stoppard situates blithe and cynical Ruth at the center of his satire, being the only character whose unspoken thoughts are transparent to the audience and being the one whose name–meaning mercy, sympathy and compassion–contrasts starkly with the ruthlessness all around her. Cherchez la femme, right? And what a femme she is. Gillum doesn’t hit a wrong note, negotiating dialogue directly to the audience and exchanges with her fellow actors like a master magician. Hers may be a performance that redefines the word glib. She excoriates the tabloid press for their paparazzi stalking of her divorce and marriage to Carson in one scene, only to fall for the young, idealistic defender of the tabloid press in another. I’m still pondering how she makes it look so easy, believable, and above all, sympathetic.

For the most part, Night and Day flows as smoothly single malt Scotch from a never-ending stream. Bohnen successfully builds tension with Guthrie’s suspicion of Carson, Milne and Guthrie’s departure to meet Colonel Shimbu, and the anticipated, nerve-racking visit from President Mageeba.

Perry’s entrance as Mageeba, certainly does not disappoint. He’s every bit as gracious, intelligent and threatening as a Western-educated, media-conscious despot should be. Regrettably, Mageeba’s ad hoc interview with Wagner drags and the play’s bit of stage violence comes off as unconvincing. It seems strange that Remy Bumppo should stumble here at such a critical moment. My hopeful assumption is that this was an off performance in an otherwise impeccable production.

Wagner (Shawn Douglass) gives Milne (Greg Matthew Anderson) a lesson in the ethics of journalism in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, Sept. 22 through Oct. 31 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.  Tickets at www.remybumppo.org or 773-404-7336. Photo by Johnny Knight.

Does Stoppard ever resolve the question of the necessity of a free press? Tough to say—on the one hand, you don’t want the Mageeba’s of the world in charge of what’s fit to print; on the other, the media is a capitalist enterprise that trivializes critical news and foregrounds trivia, until all information turns into fodder before its gaping maw. Guthrie’s defense of a free press remains the most poetic in the play:

People do awful things to each other. But it’s worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark. Information is light. Information, in itself, about anything, is light.

That is a plea appropriate to 1978, long before the 24-hour news cycle and the digital age. Now we are awash in information, both qualified and unqualified, and we can hardly now call all information light.

We few, we lucky few citizens of open, industrialized nations have, for a long time, used the media as much as a distraction from daily cares as for timely and relevant news. That’s a very human tendency. All the same, I found myself wanting to turn away from the diverting chatter of Stoppard’s principal characters. I grew weary of the same jaded arguments from people still living in a bubble of white and colonial privilege. I longed for Stoppard’s most silent character of the play, Francis (Michael Pogue), the Carson’s servant, to report his truth and have his perspective brought front and center.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Extra Credit

Guthrie (Jeff Cummings) relays to Wagner (Shawn Douglass) and Carson (David Darlow), the tragic end of reporter Milne's life, in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, Sept. 22 through Oct. 31 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets at www.remybumppo.org or 773-404-7336.   Photo by Johnny Knight.

Important Event on October 11th:

 

October 11: "Is the Truth Front Page News?" Journalist Panel

A free journalist panel hosted by WBEZ’s Richard Steele

Performance excerpts from Night and Day, highlighting the risks and responsibilities of foreign correspondents, will springboard a charged panel conversation, hosted by WBEZ’s Richard Steele, on where readers now turn to get the truth.

 

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