Review: The Man Who Turned Into a Stick (Geopolis Theater)

  
  

Centuries of Japanese theatrical tradition in show bogs down clear storytelling

 

  

Scene from 'The Man Who Turned Into a Stick' by Kobo Abe, presented by Geopolis Theater Company.

  
Geopolis Theater Company presents
  
The Man Who Turned Into a Stick
        
by Kobo Abe
Translated by
Donald Keene
Directed by
Eric Turner
at
Japanese Cultural Center, 1016 Belmont (map)
through April 2  |  tickets: $10-$18  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

Geopolis is a newer company in Chicago that has taken on a noble mission by choosing one culture to focus on each year. For their inaugural season they’ve chosen the theater of post-war Japan. These worldly minded artists have housed themselves in Chicago’s beautiful Japanese Cultural Center. Here they have staged acclaimed Japanese writer Kobo Abe’s compilation of three plays written from 1957 – 1969, collectively titled The Man Who Turned Into a Stick. Eric Turner’s direction utilizes space well, creating several visually stunning pictures. But ultimately, this Stick misses the magic and resonance of Abe’s world.

Scene from 'The Man Who Turned Into a Stick' by Kobo Abe, presented by Geopolis Theater Company.Upon entering the space (after leaving your shoes at the door), you can almost justify the admission price alone while admiring Mike Mroch’s cherry blossom influenced design, at first sight calming and alive. Four actors are motionless standing guard entombed in their quarters of the set, whereupon you take in Jerica Hucke’s varied and thought-provoking costumes.

The first play on the bill, and the strongest of the night, is “The Suitcase.” A married woman (Miona Harris) shows an unmarried visitor (Marissa Cowsill) a curious suitcase (played with distinctive physical work by Chris Sanderson). This peculiar suitcase emits sounds such as radio clicks and stock market quotes vocalized by Sanderson. The married woman’s husband has forbidden her from opening the suitcase, yet the visitor manipulates the woman’s curiosity. Abe takes a jab at patriarchal society here alluding to denying women access to worldly knowledge (a man’s affairs). Debate upon whether the suitcase contains dead ancestors or a horde of insects ensues. Cowsill’s playfulness keeps this game fun. However, there is a good amount of time when Sanderson’s disembodied reports and the women’s dialogue overlap at such a volume that it becomes difficult to discern what is happening. Eventually, the women accuse each other of the terrible sin of changing, which surely resonates with an isolationist post-war Japan. Finally, the married woman decides upon ignorance and keeps the contents of the suitcase a mystery.

The next piece is titled “The Cliff of Time.” This play puts Sanderson on display. He is a boxer past his prime who needs to win a pivotal fight to avoid dropping in the rankings, and ultimately into oblivion. Along the way Abe makes an elegant allegory to climbing the ladder in life and in the workplace. Turner makes clever use of the ensemble as puppeteer gods controlling the boxer with streams of red cloth. Josh Hoover proves to be a strong presence in this piece, helping to raise the intensity of the stakes while remaining calm and omnipresent. Nevertheless, Sanderson’ performance as the boxer is far from a knockout. The abrasive interpretation and lack of physical specificity during this piece takes away from the possibility of nuance and pathos in Abe’s text. The demanding monologue overcomes Sanderson, forcing the humor and clarity of the story to suffer.

Scene from 'The Man Who Turned Into a Stick' by Kobo Abe, presented by Geopolis Theater Company.

The conclusion is the title piece, “The Man Who Turned Into a Stick.” Two hippies (Jon Beal and Miona Harris) come across a stick (played by Sanderson). The stick is without meaning to them until two individuals (Hoover and Cowsill) appear with great interest in the stick and offer to purchase it from them. These individuals turn out to be agents from hell given the task of surveying what objects the dead turn into. Apparently, “98 percent become sticks.” Once again, there is some humor and irony that is lost in this piece. While Hucke’s costumes were impressive initially, one desires a transformation in this act to clarify the roles. Harris’ hippie is still dressed in a traditional kimono while attempting to represent the youth counter culture of the 1960’s. One high point is watching Cowsill develop an intriguing fascination with the stick. However, when Sanderson, as a dead man trapped inside the stick, is left alone for eternity we should sense the frustration of his/our mortality. Unfortunately, as too much of the actors’ focus is centered on muddled stylistic movement, empathy is sacrificed.

Overall, Turner’s concept takes too much precedence over telling Abe’s tales with clarity. Action and character are hindered by attempts to incorporate ritualistic movement, in the likes of Suzuki and Noh theatre, to a point that it detracts from the subtlety and poignancy of Abe’s writing. What we get is a somewhat watered down hodgepodge of Japanese theatrical physicality that could take an ensemble years or decades to master.

To communicate the story of a play is the foremost job of any production. As this company continues to tackle other great theatrical cultures it might do well to remember that if it clearly conveys the story, it already has succeeded greatly in its global endeavor.

     
    
Rating: ★★½
  
  
Scene from 'The Man Who Turned Into a Stick' by Kobo Abe, presented by Geopolis Theater Company. Scene from 'The Man Who Turned Into a Stick' by Kobo Abe, presented by Geopolis Theater Company.

The Man Who Turned Into a Stick continues at The Japanese Cultural Center through April 3rd, with performances Saturdays and Sundays at 8:00pm.  Running time is eighty minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $15 online, $18 at the door, and $10 student tickets. For more info visit: http://www.geopolistheater.com/

     

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REVIEW: Dead Pile (XIII Pocket Ensemble)

  
  

Vegan play is all potatoes, no meat

  
  

Cast from XIII Pocket's  'Dead Pile': (left to right) Allie Long, Andy Lutz,  Justin James Farley (center), Mark Minton and Chip Davis.  Photo credit: Michael Litchfield

   
XIII Pocket Ensemble presents
   
Dead Pile
  
Written by Laura Jacqmin
Directed by Megan Shuchman
at Theater Wit, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
thru Feb 27  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

There are a couple positive things about XIII Pocket’s Dead Pile. For one, the play features some impressive acting talent. Justin James Farley as the animal-rights investigator protagonist delivers his lines with a distinct genuineness, even when the script is laughably melodramatic. Likewise, Andy Lutz (making his Chicago debut) injects some much-needed levity into his role as the alcoholic, antagonistic farmhand.

The other compliment I’ll pay is that – for a play that centers around such hot-button issues as animal rights, food production and ethical veganism – it avoids the pitfall of being too preachy. We never get that worn diatribe about the systemic abuses that plague dairy farms and meat producers. After all, propaganda (even if it is propaganda that this theater critic agrees with) does not necessarily make for good storytelling. Unfortunately, even without the predictable soapboxing, Dead Pile is dead on arrival.

Scene from XIII Pocket's 'Dead Pile' - (top) Andy Lutz (bottom) Allie Long and Justin James Farley. Photo credit: Michael LitchfieldThe play is about an animal rights investigator named Jeremy who is sent out on assignment by his non-profit boss (Chip Davis) to infiltrate a dairy farm. Once on the farm, Jeremy encounters a colorful cast of trite, two-dimensional caricatures. We have Russell (Mark Minton), the farmer’s progressive son who wants to transform his daddy’s property into an organic farm. Then there’s R.J. (Lutz), the tough farmhand who’s aggressive with women, yells at football games and likes beer too much. And finally we have Nance (Allie Long), the superfluous love interest who has bigger dreams than to be bound to an Indiana farm.

As Jeremy conducts his investigation, he’s continually pressured by his non-profit supervisors to gather animal abuse evidence so they can make a bust. Meanwhile, he’s warming up to Nance and Russell, which could compromise matters. It also means he’s probably not a competent investigator, but I guess that’s beside the point.

Playwright Laura Jacqmin‘s inhumane treatment of the audience is worthy of a PETA investigation. She muddles the play with unnecessary details while simultaneously robbing us of what should be the most dramatic scenes. The fact that Jeremy is black is brought up too many times without enough justification for its presence. Are we supposed to be surprised that not all Indiana farmers are racist bigots? And why end the first act with a frantic voice over, when you could just stage what sounds like a really engaging scene? And what about the big reveal, that moment that the audience has been anticipating the entire play where Jeremy’s status is revealed? It is done so swiftly and with no impact that it’s pointless that he reveals it at all.

Another major flaw is the melodrama. The biggest offending scene is one in which Jeremy and Nance share what might be the most forced intimate moment I have ever seen staged. Seriously, this scene has everything, from a Lifetime-esque sob story about Jeremy’s invalid brother to Nance begging Jeremy to take her with him when he leaves because, after all, anywhere is better than here.

I reserve additional criticism for Megan Shuchman, whose direction comes across as thoughtless. What purpose does it serve to have Davey visible to the audience throughout the entire play? What is the deal with the set design? With all the thrown about windowpanes, wood scraps and bric-a-brac it resembles the eye of a tornado more than a farm. Why waste stage space with an office and a bedroom you barely use while your actors are forced to largely perform in an ambiguous setting?

So while I applaud Jacqmin for striving to craft a story that refuses to preach to the choir, I fault her for producing an amateur script where the audience is robbed of sympathetic characters and climaxes. Concentrate on writing a good play with a great story, compelling scenes and dynamic characters. Without that as your base, your audience will wonder, "Where’s the beef?"

     
     
Rating: ★½
   
   

Dead Pile continues thru February 27th, running Thursdays-Sundays, February 4-27, at 8pm.  Performances occur at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago. Tickets priced at  $20 general admission and $12 student/senior. To purchase tickets, call the Stage 773 box office at 773-327-5252.  More info at http://www.xiiipocket.com.

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REVIEW: Church and Pullman, WA (Red Tape Theatre)

     
     

Exhilaration, fear and loathing in religion

     
     

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Red Tape Theatre presents
  
Church  /  Pullman, WA
  
Written by Young Jean Lee
Directed by
James Palmer
at
Red Tape Theatre, 621 W. Belmont (map)
through March 5  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Young Jean Lee’s plays, Church and Pullman, WA, are really two peas in a pod. Produced by Red Tape Theatre under the direction of James Palmer, Lee’s two one-acts bookend human experience on matters of self-help, personal worth, religion, motivational speaking and hallucinatory mysticism. It’s not just that having faith is, by its nature, not a rational act–Lee’s works steep the audience in the utter irrationality of belief systems of all sorts and in doing so, exposes the raw human struggle to go on in hope and positive meaning for living.

“I know how to live,” exclaims a young woman (Amanda Reader) at the top of Pullman, WA, glowing bright, professional and squeaky clean. She begins as clearly and simplistically as anyone leading a motivational workshop or a weekend seminar spawned by the Human Potential Movement. “The first thing you have to remember is that You Are You,” she scrawls upon the blackboard behind her. Yet, it quickly becomes clear that she is as plagued by doubts as any fallible human, and the motivational tactics she espouses are a thin shield against uncertainty.

As she falters, an assistant (Meghan Reardon) interrupts to guide the audience through a meditation comforting in its childlike, beneficent imagery—“You are sitting on a giant puffball”–which, of course, soon becomes so festooned with unicorns and candy-coated rainbows, it’s absurd. A second assistant (Austin Oie) chimes in with time-honored, Biblically resonant reassurance, “I am an angel of the Lord.” But he also fails to deliver unimpeachable strength of conviction. Between the three motivational speakers, Pullman, WA veers into macabre madness.

Lee’s writing has got a tiger by the tale. How much should we trust belief systems that tell us everything is going to be alright so long as we believe, whether it’s about believing in ourselves, believing in a higher power or believing in some cognitive system built to reassure and propel us forward? That way leads to madness, madness reflected in the imagery of Lee’s script, which owes a debt to Hieronymus Bosch.

The trouble, if there is any, lies in Church being pretty much the same thing, only expanded. Red Tape may want to review the necessity of performing two almost identical plays back to back as they’ve chosen to do. Nevertheless, set up as a storefront church service, Palmer’s more than able cast easily holds their own through all Church’s tangential swerves and comic detours. They are brilliant at exposing faith as the ephemeral and potentially dangerous thing it is. Rev. Jose (Robert L. Oakes), in particular, leads the audiences on a humorous, hallucinatory sojourn with his sermonizing which, by the way, includes mummies, Jesus among leprous child molesters, and almost everything being poison. His fellow Reverends, Angela (Angela Alise Johnson) and Carrie (Carrie Drapac), nail the links between power, faith and fear with the song:

Shakin’ in your bones is required
To believe in colossal empires . . .

A sentiment impacted all the more by the final chorus, both uplifting and terrifying, in their anthem of religious compliance and resignation. So busy praising Jesus, so busy working for the kingdom, so busy serving their master, they ain’t got time to die. One recognizes religion as a strategy for survival—an exhilarating uplift to meet life’s random and often overwhelming challenges. One can also see its desperate acquiescence to a power greater than oneself, which eventually includes temporal power. As far as Lee’s work is concerned, the two are hopelessly intermeshed. Now that’s something that will put the fear of God in you.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

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REVIEW:Sweet Bird of Youth (Artistic Home) now thru Jan16!

Update: Due to sold-out houses, now extended thru Jan 16th!

When Monster meets Monster

ChancePrincessdiagonal

   
The Artistic Home presents
   
Sweet Bird of Youth
   
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Dale Calandra
at Artistic Home Theatre, 3914 N. Clark (map)
through Nov 28  |  tickets: $20-$28  |  more info 

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

A waiter I once worked with would, from time to time, show up on the job in a t-shirt reading, “Old age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill.” That could be the working subtitle for Tennessee WilliamsSweet Bird of Youth, now onstage at The Artistic Home under the direction of Dale Calandra. Williams’ famed gigolo, Chance Wayne (Josh Odor), is no match for the wizened, tougher, and connected oldsters surrounding him. Wanted for his masculine beauty, Chance has tried to parlay his charm and sex appeal into lasting fame and fortune, sacrificing over time his young love, Heavenly (Elizabeth Argus), in the process. Chance returns to his hometown of St. Cloud in the company of an aging, incognito actress to try and wrest Heavenly from the control of her father—his nemesis—the oily Southern politician Boss Finley (Frank Nall).

Chancealone But Sweet Bird of Youth is more about the sordid, compromised relationship between Chance and Princess Kosmonopolis (Kathy Scambiatterra) than about any hope of a future for two separated young lovers. The Princess, or rather, Alexandra Del Lago, is Chances’ last way out of his poor background into a life of luxury. But it’s a way out that can only happen under certain sexploitative conditions. Their affair is a cramped hothouse world in which people can only use and be used. As for Heavenly, she can only be used by her father in his political campaign against desegregation, under the pretense defending the purity of Southern youth against the mixing of the races.

However, neither Heavenly nor Chance is pure anymore. Much about their corrupt, classist environment has blighted their youth. Calandra’s organic direction instinctively draws out Williams’ political intentions. One is never hammered over the head with them but allowed to see them as part of the interplay among the rest of Williams’ themes. In Boss Finley’s quasi-religious belief in his racist mission, one sees shades of Glenn Beck, as well as Bristol and Sarah Palin. One sees Tea Partiers in the young men rallied to his campaign by the Boss’s son, Tom Junior (Tim Musachio). In fact one sees shades of W. in Tom Junior–quite an unnerving thing.

But rest assured, the Artistic Home’s production is not one big political deconstruction. True to Williams’ intent, the cast brings out all the sex, wit, and poetry crammed into the script. The opening scene alone casts Odor in a silhouette reminiscent of Paul Newman or Steve McQueen. Odor’s Chance sulks his way into sexiness—a completely different take on the role from Newman. Here one senses a man very cognizant of the clock ticking on his last desperate bid to make his dreams come true. Scambiatterra is simply an acting marvel. Her comic timing is impeccable in this deeply witty, high-maintenance-has-been-turned-comeback role. The very sound of her gravelly voice grounds Williams’ heightened, poetic language to realist perfection.

That leaves the other oldster, Frank Nall (Boss Finley) to solidly set the third pillar of this production. Nall has all the nuances of his corrupt Southern politician down pat–all the Boss’s patriarchal ChancePrincesspurplecontrol, bigotry, possessive affection, humor and hypocrisy he delivers in a performance as natural and perfectly tailored as the Boss’s nice white suit. Nuanced touches from the rest of the cast set the right mood and tone, but there is nothing like a good villain for the hero to go up against.

“When monster meets monster, one monster has to give way,” says Alexandra, as she spars with Chance in their hotel room. No matter how hard Chance tries to manipulate the situation, he is always giving way. To a certain degree he cannot accept the compromised soul he has become. The other monsters, particularly the older ones, have learned that this is what they are now. The lovely past, with all its fresh promise and innocent potential, cannot be retrieved. Mike Mroch’s snow white set design establishes the Easter Sunday sanctity into which Chance and the Princess intrude with their queer quarrels and decadent life together. But Jeff Glass’s lighting design of lurid reds and blues soon make it clear that they belong here at this monster’s ball. They belong in St. Cloud with all the other monsters. Let the Heckler (Keith Neagle) tell that to the Boss.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

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REVIEW: Dental Society Midwinter Meeting (Chicago Dramatists)

Dentists extract some painful truths

 

dsmw - cast

   
Chicago Dramatists presents
   
Dental Society Midwinter Meeting
   
Written by Laura Jacqmin
Directed by
Megan Shuchman
at
Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map)
through August 7th  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

This is not this season’s most exciting title, but then the world of dentists isn’t exactly fraught with incident. Dental Society Midwinter Meeting is just that—a carefully chronicled, day-by-day depiction of a real convention, an annual conference of dentists where practitioners catch up on the profession’s latest developments, ethical challenges (insurance fraud and drug abuse), and party heart with conventioneers’ jubilation. Though the Chicago Dental Society’s conference is held at McCormick dsmm - 1 Place in February, playwright Laura Jacqmin moves the 6,000 dentists (and 12,000 vendors who prey on them) to the Skokie Marriott, if only to maintain a safe distance from any possible litigation by the C.D.S.

A true ensemble work, Megan Shuchman’s 80-minute world premiere staging presents the entire meeting through the playful testimony of six participants. We get hour by hour updates on the shenanigans and crises of doctors beset by more than just the problem of paying for central air conditioning or correctly coding their invoices to insurers. The male dentists indulge in male fantasies of wilderness adventure as they shop for hunters’ vests at Old Orchard’s L.L. Bean store. The surgeons munch Panera bread as they exchange gossip. One tries to free herself from an unscrupulous vendor whose tooth whitener is toxic. They sing karaoke (horribly) as they shake their booties on Saturday night.

This year’s conference is beset by a scandal in which the president of the North Shore Regional Dental Society has been caught in adultery with his comely dental hygienist; worse, he’s allowed her to practice advance dental procedures without a license. (Nothing really comes of this red herring.) The dentists are also supposedly caught up in late night discussions on how to clean up their leader’s act and their trade’s questionable image. Can they reform such a morally challenged pursuit?

Other problems fraught with insider details concern a gay dentist whose partner has been caught cheating on his lover’s billing practices. He in turn finds himself sexually manipulated in order to help a colleague in similar hot water.

dentists chicago dramatists castJacqmin certainly knows this medical subculture and examines it compassionately in what amounts to a keyhole-peeping expose. But she’s after more toothy substance than just a breakdown of breakout meetings and keynote speeches. By play’s end, Jacqmin implies that all their talk of self-regulation and moral uplift will, well, decay as the dentists’ bad habits undermine their best intentions. American professionals, it seems, are as trapped by short-sighted and short-term thinking as our corporate overseers.

The real payoff here is no artificially happy resolution of intractable problems but a very believable look at good folks working at cross-purposes to raise standards as much as fees.

    
    
Rating: ★★★
   
    

NOTE: No one under 14 years old will be admitted.

 

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REVIEW: The Tallest Man (The Artistic Home)

 

Great News: Due to high ticket sales, The Artistic Home

has extended this fine production through August 22nd!!

Of travelers and tall ghosts

 

The Tallest Man

   
The Artistic Home presents
   
The Tallest Man
   
Written by Jim Lynch
Directed by John Mossman
at
The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark  (map)
through August 22nd  |  tickets: $22-$27  |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, and have heard a good deal of what is called Irish tradition and superstition. Ghosts, feuds, remedies for bad luck, and  pride in one’s culture abound in the Artistic Home production of The Tallest Man. This fine production brings to life a land and culture in a humorous and touching way.

Tourmakeady, County Mayo Ireland around the turn of the 20th-century is the setting for this tale based on the stories told to playwright Jim Lynch. The people have survived the Great Potato Famine and live under British rule on Irish land. Here they The Tallest Manscramble for survival; land ownership is brutal and unrelenting with the collector looming around every corner.

The characters are introduced around the centerpiece of Breda Kennedy’s pub. Breda and her daughter Katie run the pub and Breda demands respect as the only Catholic woman who owns anything in County Mayo. Miranda Zola plays Breda with lusty ferocity, looking like a woman who has been ten rounds and won bare-knuckled. It is a brilliant performance from Ms. Zola, who I last saw playing a more deluded matriarch in The Artistic Home production of The House of Yes (our review ★★★).

The action begins in the pub with local sots Tommy Joe Lally (Frank Nall) and Johnny Mulligan (Bill Boehler). The two men sit at a barrel table drinking steins of whiskey and telling tales of the Tall Man, whose presence has altered life in Tourmakeady. Katie Kennedy tends the pub and dismisses the two men as yokels who are full of blarney. Katie (played with deep longing and courage by Marta Evans) yearns to go to a mythical New York where she can be a fine lady with furs and jewelry. She refuses to be tied down to the only other landowner – Tommy Joe. Early on it is apparent that Lally and Mulligan are always getting into absurd situations. They are the Vladimir and Estragon of County Mayo, showing their comedic genius in a scene where they pose as Cain and Abel after losing a card game to the parish priest.

The town of Tourmakeady is a character as well in this production. Set designer Mike Mroch has represented this environment through a darkly-painted stage replete with foreboding hues of green and fully-embellished with leaves.  It is not quite the rolling and verdant hills of Irish legend, but instead a survivor of famine and blood spilled over land rights. The cemetery and church have the same aura. Along with Mroch, playwright Jim Lynch and director John Mossman have crafted a complete fusion of time, character and place without compromise.

The Tallest Man The Tallest Man

The history of the Irish Travelers is a motif of the story. The main characters of Finbar McDonough and his cousin Frankie Walsh are from the Traveler tradition. They are called Tinkers in The Tallest Man, and represent a shameful and unwelcome part of Tourmakeady to Breda Kennedy. They are scoundrel, thieves, and worse. Finbar McDonough is in love with the beautiful lass Katie. Shane Kenyon plays Finbar with a devilish and sexy glint that is most appealing. He and Katie make out in the dark outside the bar and make plans for the future. Katie wants out and Finbar want to settle old scores. They have a wonderful chemistry without the airbrushing or any false notes.

The Tallest Man also exposes the Catholic Church as a seedy partner in the people’s struggle of Ireland. Malcolm Callan plays the local priest, Father McLaughlin, of Tourmakeady with unctuous vigor. He is seen extorting kickbacks from the landlord’s The Tallest Man representative. Father McLaughlin couches his demands from Newcomb (delightfully played by Eamonn McDonogh) under the guise of helping ‘his people’. The dialogue of how ‘their dirty faces look to me every Sunday’ made my skin crawl considering the current events with some of the priesthood. Devout lad Frankie Walsh discovers Father McLaughlin’s underhanded activities. Frankie remembers his daddy fondly, and feels responsible for his death by speaking at the wrong time. He cannot forgive McLaughlin’s duplicity of blessing his father’s funeral while being responsible for his death. Walsh projects wrath, grief, and guilt so beautifully in a part that could be really over the top. Darrelyn Marx as Finbar’s mother Mary is also wonderful, possessing a gorgeous voice when she sings of her son. It’s a moment to bring tears to the eyes.

Jim Lynch also brings tears of laughter through his capturing of Irish wit and tradition without false embellishment. The Tallest Man is a rowdy good time. The language is coarse and the action is naturalistic. There is blood, sweat, spit, and lust in every scene both implied or seen. John Mossman directs this production seamlessly; every scene and character flows as well as fits in what could easily be a complicated puzzle. More than just a tale of Tinker ingenuity, the work is the story not told in the history books but instead around the table, or at the corner bar, or at your grandfather’s knee no matter your genealogy. See it, and you’ll also see your family somewhere within.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 
 

The Tallest Man plays on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through August 22nd, 2010. The Artistic Home Theatre is located at 3914 N. Clark near Irving Park. For tickets call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.theartisthome.org

   
   

Featuring Ensemble members Marta Evans, Nick Horst, Frank Nall, and Miranda Zola; and Guest Artists Shane Kenyon, Eamonn McDonagh, Darrelyn Marx, Malcolm Callan, Brandon Thompson and Bill Boehler.

Directed by John Mossman
Produced by Jimmy Ronan and Samantha Church
Assistant Directed by Kristin Collins
Stage Manager: Rose Kruger
Lighting design by Josh Weckesser
Scenic Design by Mike Mroch
Costume design by Ellen Seidel
Sound/Original Music design by Aaron Krister Johnson

     
     

REVIEW: The House of Yes (Artistic Home)

A resounding, yet disturbing, “Yes”

 

House of Yes Publicity Photo #1

 
The Artistic Home presents
 
The House of Yes
 
by Wendy Macleod
directed by
Kaiser Ahmed
at
The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark (map)
thru May 2nd  |  tickets: $10-$15  |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

This is a story of what the age of Camelot hath wrought and what happens when no one tells you no. The Artistic Home’s production of The House of Yes is a dark love story that takes place almost two decades after the assassination of JFK. It is also a master portrait of comic absurdity in the privileged class of America.

House of Yes Publicity Photo #2 The Pascal family is trapped in time and in collective delusion. The eldest daughter is named Jackie O (brilliantly played by Liz Ladach-Bark). It quickly becomes apparent that Jackie O is a very disturbed girl. Ladach-Bark speaks in a patrician tone reminiscent of Katherine Hepburn and gives a wonderful unhinged quality to her character.

Miranda Zola (Mrs. Pascal) is an elegantly beautiful performer whose character encourages and sustains an incestuous relationship between her children. Both chilling and funny, Mrs. Pascal seems to admire the twisted relationship between her twin children.

The play is set at Thanksgiving, which can be a cliché of family drama-trauma, but this family melee is done skillfully and without histrionics. Youngest son Anthony (played with subtle ferocity by Tom McGregor), who has dropped out of Princeton, a failure at most everything save for his role as antagonizing brother, is trying to keep up with his big brother Marty in more ways than one and taunts Jackie O, telling her that Marty is bringing home a friend. The oldest brother has been away at college and his sister has been away at a mental institution. When Marty Pascal (the outstanding Andrew Yearick) steps through the door with a fiancée Lesly (Devon Carson, who does a commendable job playing the the production’s one “normal” person), all hell breaks loose – literally. Yearick truly looks like Joe College of whom his mother should be proud. The unraveling of his psyche and his helplessness to the machinations of Jackie O is infuriating and spellbinding.

Within this play are three scenes that might stay with you for a time after leaving the theatre:

A scene between Ms. Ladach-Bark and Ms. Carson is terrifying and yet funny. Jackie O is brushing Lesly’s hair while interrogating her about Marty. It seemed as if she were going to bludgeon her with the brush or rip her neck open, but she let the catty remarks fly while sweetly brushing. It was a nail biter moment like Clemenza in the back seat in “The Godfather”.

The most riveting scene is the sick reenactment of the JFK assassination that serves as foreplay for the fevered sex between siblings. Jackie O dons a pink Chanel suit with macaroni and ketchup standing in for the brains of the dead president. Marty pretends to be riding in the convertible and Jackie O shoots him, then runs to his side to play the part of the terrified widow. The line uttered in the first scene about Jackie O holding Marty’s penis in the womb is echoed without words.

House of Yes Publicity Photo #3 Finally, the scene between Mr. McGregor and Ms. Carson is disturbing in a different way. It is hard to fathom that fiance Lesly would fall for Anthony’s line of bull. He claims to be a virgin with a brain tumor and he needs to have sex before he dies. Anthony then drops the bomb that Jackie O and her fiance Marty are lovers, which Lesly does not believe until she sees it with her own eyes. It’s not that the sibling relations revolt her but that she plays into their hands to stay in the game. The whole family is lined up against her at this point but Lesly thinks she can still get away with the prize of Marty. In fact, the whole family is lined up for Jackie O because she has always gotten her way. She has flushed a lizard down the toilet because she thought that Marty loved it more than her. Mrs. Pascal explains, “Jackie O has always gotten her way. That’s just the way it is.”  (The Pascals are like wolves that feed on outsiders. It is intimated that Mr. Pascal’s abandonment was really a murder that coincided with the hole being dug for central air conditioning. )

A great deal of skill and passion went into making an act of incest really an act of love. Yes, it is twisted  – but the actors, and superb direction by Kaiser Ahmed, gives one a sense that the damage was done before the twins took to playing house to a higher adult level.

The set design, by Mike Mroch, is quite beautiful and authentic. (I found myself going through a flashback to my grandmother’s house, with the polished wood bar and the trapezoid coffee table.) Gleaming martini glasses and decanters add a glint of extra danger to the action. The use of picture frames as windows is a touch of brilliance as well (although they could just as well have been funhouse mirrors!).

This production was a breakneck thrill ride for me. Everything is done impeccably. The director has done a beautiful and seamless job of directing very difficult material. This is an indictment of American privilege that shows how always getting one’s way becomes parasitic. Though horrifying to think that neighbors could be watching this family’s demise, I am glad that I got to be a voyeur in The House of Yes. Take the time to watch-this is theatre at its best.

 
Rating: ★★★
 

House of Yes Publicity Photo #4

The House of Yes runs through May 2nd, 2010 at The Artistic Home Acting Studio, 3914 N. Clark Street in Chicago. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 6:00pm. For tickets visit www.theartistichome.org or call 866-811-4111.

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