REVIEW: Sketchbook X (Collaboraction)

Collaboraction celebrates the creative spirit with Sketchbook X

 Pictured (left to right): Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa, Mary Hollis Inboden and Meg Johns in The New Colony Ensemble’s world premiere “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27, 2010 at The Chopin Theatre. http://www.collaboraction.org

   
Collaboraction presents
   
Sketchbook X:   People’s Choice
   
at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through June 27th  |  tickets: $20-$35   |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

What is a play exactly? Is it a dramatic staging of a story? Is it people moving around in a physical space in front of an audience? And furthermore, what separates a play from a sketch or a scene or even a performance art installation?

Pictured (left to right): Jeffrey Gitelle, Ian McLaren and Emily Shain in “Eighty Four” written by Cory Tamler, directed by Dan Stermer. “Eighty Four” is one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27 at The Chopin Theatre These are the questions I was left pondering after seeing Collaboraction’s tenth annual Sketchbook festival, a showcase of original mixed media performances. This  year’s theme was “exponential.” Yes, it is fairly nebulous, and this is perhaps one reason why the output lacks a certain concreteness and cohesion. Characters and plot become secondary to evoking visceral emotions. Sketchbook X in many ways is more circus than drama.

This isn’t to say that the finished product is all spectacle and no substance. There are some standout pieces.

The one that clearly stands out the most is Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche. Unlike other pieces that become crushed under their own weight, Five Lesbians is a witty, stylized comedy. Devised by Evan Linder, the play features five women (Sarah Gitenstein, Mary Hollis Inboden, Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa and Megan Johns) who head a local social club centered around a shared love of quiche. The women click and cluck like 1950s southern church ladies and harass the audience. When communist Russia bombs the outside world, all quiche is destroyed. The women go into a tizzy, which leads to their outings.

Five Lesbians works because it is the most refined piece of the festival. The script feels fully fleshed out, the actors are well aware of their characters and the comedic timing is impeccable. There is a lot of commitment, and there is little ambiguity. It has an aesthetic all its own that is so engaging I’d pay to see a full-length production.

Pictured (left to right): Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa, Mary Hollis Inboden and Meg Johns in The New Colony Ensemble’s world premiere “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27, 2010 at The Chopin Theatre

Other standouts include Sacrebleu (devised and performed by Dean Evans, Molly Plunk and Anthony Courser), a pantomimed, slapstick comedy about two eccentric French fur trappers. The short monologue The Blueberry (written by Sean Graney and featuring Celeste Januszewski) is a thoughtful meditation on existence that explains string theory with blueberry imagery.

Other pieces, however, just don’t pan out. What I’m Looking For (written by Brett C. Leonard and featuring Joel Gross and Heather Bodie) is little more than a heavy-handed music video for a Rufus Wainwright song. Meanwhile, The Untimely Death of  Adolf Hitler (written by Andy Grigg and featuring Eddie Karch, Anthony Moseley, Erin Myers, Greg Hardigan and Dan Krall) lacks enough wit to drive the piece beyond its premise. But you can’t expect all the pieces to be gems. Besides, if you don’t like something, just wait 7 to 10 minutes for another play.

Sketchbook-Four-Women As usual, Collaboraction has succeeded in making the festival feel like a big event. The interior of the Chopin Theatre is awash in glowing light and fog. Two large screens flank the sides of the stage and streamers stretch from the floor to the ceiling. It all makes for a breath-taking first impression.

If you want to see all 19 pieces in a row, you’ll have to see the show on a Saturday. Be warned, though. It’s a 4.5-hour long journey, though you are encouraged to come and go as you please.

Overall, Sketchbook X is a mixed bag of intriguing works. The majority of the pieces lack refinement, but there are a few plays that are polished treasures. The theme gets lost among the many productions, but I don’t think that’s the point. Rather, Sketchbook is more of a party that aims to celebrate the creative spirit, and in that sense, it succeeds.

   
   
Rating:  ★★★
   
   

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Review: Silent Theatre’s “Carnival Nocturne”

Quirky, Murky, Malarkey

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The Silent Theatre Company presents

Carnival Nocturne

At DCA Storefront Theatre
Conceived and written by Gillian Hastings
Directed by Tonika Todorova
Thru December 20th (ticket info)

review by Katy Walsh

SilentTheatre_CarnivalNocturne_6 Words cannot express… because there are none. The Silent Theatre Company presents Carnival Nocturne, the story of a traveling circus plagued by a curse. Carnival Nocturne is the last of the three theatre company 2009 series produced by Chicago’s Department of Culture Affairs (DCA) Theatre and performed at the Store Front Theatre. The play is performed with the music accompaniment of a live band and minimal vocal narration. It’s a creative and challenging genre that is reliant on body language to convey the tale. There are no words to answer the questions that Carnival Nocturne provokes.

Gillian Hastings has conceived and written the Carnival Nocturne. One gets that there is indeed a curse, but its origin is unclear. A woman is killed in the very beginning by her husband. Why? He loves her, right? Did someone switch knives? Who? And why? Did the girl run away to join the circus? Or did she grow up with the circus? Does the Ring Master fall in love with her? What about his wife? Wait, she’s dead – or is she? Is that guy a dog? Or does he just think he’s a dog? Is this the end of the show? Though the plot is disjointed, do you go to the carnival for the story?

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Nonetheless, Carnival Nocturne has many whimsical and colorful moments. Costumes designed by Barb Staples are an explosion of vibrant imagination. It’s old school carnie with an underworld twist. Lindsey Marks and Taylor Bibat play Siamese twins. Mostly their synchronicity is flawless yet eerie. During an aerial bit, they do get out of sync and the clunkiness breaks the spell. The barker (played by Marvin Eduardo Quijada) is pure animated entertainment from his surprise entrance to his curtain pulling ending. The cat act, Flim and Flam, (played by Dean Evans and Molly Plunk) is playful antics; Evans is exceptionally expressive. Yohanna (played by SilentTheatre_CarnivalNocturne_11Rachel Rizzuto) delivers a vulnerable performance as the girl who runs away to join the circus (…or grew up with the circus?).

Clever and imaginative are the perfect words to describe this Silent Theatre Company experience. I admit that I’d probably need a to see this a few more times to completely understand the story-line. Unfortunately the program doesn’t help decipher the components of Carnival Nocturne. Without dialogue or program pictures, we’re left to guess: Who is who? What is what? What’s going on? Talk to me, Silent Theatre Company!

 

Rating: ★★

 

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