REVIEW: reasons to be pretty (Profiles Theatre)

     
     

Profiles masterfully explores the power of being ‘pretty’ vs. ‘regular’

     
     

Darrel W. Cox and Darci Nalepa in Neil LaBute's 'reasons to be pretty' at Profiles Theatre.  Photo by Wayne Karl.

   
Profiles Theatre presents
  
reasons to be pretty
   
Written by Neil LaBute
Directed by
Rick Snyder 
at
Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway (map)
thru March 13  |  tickets: $35-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

He will hurt you. He’s a guy. It’s a done deal!

Profiles Theatre presents the Chicago premiere of reasons to be pretty.  Greg dates Steph. His best friend is Kent. Kent is married to Carly. Carly is best friends with Steph. Greg and Kent ogle over the new eye candy at work. Greg offhandedly compares her beautiful face to Steph’s ‘regular’ face. When a guy slams his girlfriend within earshot of her gal pal, the comment will be repeated and repeated and repeated. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. But what if the beholder has small, squinty eyes? And what’s ‘regular’ anyway? On the surface, reasons to be pretty is an unattractive expose on men’s shallow nature. At the heart of it, reasons to be pretty is one man’s quest to confront his own inner beauty.

Darrel W. Cox and Darci Nalepa in Neil LaBute's 'reasons to be pretty' at Profiles Theatre.  Photo by Wayne Karl.Playwright Neil LaBute keeps it real with machete-sharp dialogue and imperfect characters. LaBute creates a moment in a relationship and drops the audience into the crossfire. The banter engages so authentically that one feels as if they are in-the-room, wanting to interject a helpful ‘tell her….’ during the confrontations. Despite the various piercing altercations, the drama is funny. LaBute crafts in comedic lines to soften the blows. Director Rick Snyder keeps the wrath at a frenzy, interspersed with breaths of humor. Snyder paces the show tight with conversations quipping along and scene shifts signaled with a buzzard and minimal prop modification.

Profiles Theatre must pick their play choices to showcase the resident divo. reasons to be pretty follows the pattern. Darrell W. Cox is excellent! He starts and ends the play with monologues delivered so perfectly natural it creates an autobiographical feel. He struggles with guilt in a bumbling and endearing manner. LaBute wrote Steph and Carly as strong women. Some men might say ‘regular’ bitches but most women are more inclined to see them as inspiring. Darci Nalepa embraces and emboldens in a food court scene that is every female’s fantasy. Nalepa balances the vulnerability and confidence with glimpses of tears behind a veil of rage. Somer Benson (Carly) is a facade of smug self-righteousness pushing for the truth to be known. Although her words are always sharply direct, Benson quivers memorably facing her own worst fears. Christian Stolte (Kent) schmucks it up to a very unattractive level. Stolte is disgusting… as a vulgar, objectifying prick.

Color it, tweeze it, lift it… men may be the catalyst for the never-ending beauty quest, but the standard is mirrored by women. There is plenty of “reasons to be pretty”! There are even more “reasons to be pretty nice”! This show examines what’s going on below the surface in relationships and attitudes. The ugly truth is some people don’t think YOU are pretty enough. Seeing this show will help you determine if s/he is sitting next to you.

  
  

Rating: ★★★½

   
   

Darrell W. Cox, Christian Stolte and Somer Benson in Neil LaBute's 'reasons to be pretty' at Profiles Theatre.  Photo by Wayne Karl.

Production photos courtesy of Wayne Karl.

 reasons to be pretty, by by Neil LaBute, continues through March 13th at Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway.  Performance dates/times are Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 7pm.  Running Time: ninety minutes with no intermission.  More info at Profiles’ website.

 

Continue reading

REVIEW: Kid Sister (Profiles Theatre)

   
   

Loud and Louder

   
  

Kid Sister - Profiles Theatre Chicago

   
   
Profiles Theatre presents
   
Kid Sister
   
Written by Will Kern
Directed by
Joe Jahraus
at
Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway (map)
through Dec 19  |  tickets: $30-$35  |  more info

Review by Catey Sullivan

Holy mother of swamp rat excrescence!  I suppose there are more repetitive, unimaginative and utterly pointless plays out there than Kid Sister, but none come to mind. If we didn’t have 15 years of solid Profiles productions still in memory, their latest would be enough to make us swear off the Broadway Avenue black box. Because taking in Will Kern’s drama of Flo}rida misfits is just about as entertaining as watching a bunch of mean drunks scream at each other for 80 solid minutes. And I’m not talking witty drunks. I’m talking the sort of dumb, depressing drunks whose verbal skills make the repartee on Jerry Springer look positively Coward-esque by comparison.

Kid Sister 2 - Profiles Theatre ChicagoIt’s tough to believe this waste of space, time and good actors is by the same author as Hellcab. One wonders what befell playwright Will Kern in the years between that earlier effort – a whipsmart, insightful comedy peopled with characters of razorsharp definition – and Kid Sister. Hellcab ran for nearly a decade in Chicago, and deservedly so. Kid Sister should not run beyond opening night. And that’s being generous.

On the surface, Kid Sister invites comparisons to Killer Joe (our review ★★★½), Tracy Letts’ thrilling and twisted comedy of matricide, sociopaths and trailer trash (and a huge hit for Profiles earlier this year). Like Killer Joe, Kid Sister’s set is a single room filled with strewn junk food wrappers and booze bottles, furnished by a grimy refrigerator, a battered card table, and a couch that looks like a health hazard. The similarities continue:  There’s a murder involving trash bags, and an ensemble of characters who lack the basic vocabulary to make themselves understood. But where Killer Joe was brilliantly funny and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, Kid Sister is neither. Instead of dialogue, Kid Sister gives us people screaming at each other with all the verbal skills of slow middle schoolers.

Which would be fine if Kern gave us characters worth caring about. He doesn’t. Not for a moment in Kid Sister is there ever a single person to empathize with, and thus not for a moment does it ever feel like anything is at stake. You’re simply watching people act out, moving from one scene of shrieking degradation to another.

Directed by Joe Jahraus, Kid Sister begins with 19-year-old Demi –making the skanky most of both boobs and legs in a tatty denim miniskirt and a dollar-store hoochie mama top – screeching and waving a gun as her sadsack boyfriend Babe comes home from a shift at a local fast food joint. Despite the barrage of c*nts and f*cks and other profanities Demi hurls, the scene isn’t so much shocking as it is boring and repetitive. After the first three or so c-words, the shock turns into tedium.

That tedium isn’t broken up by any gradation in emotion either – Demi (Allison Torem) starts at 10 on the shrill-o-meter and remains there for the duration of the production. It’s a one-note performance: Imagine someone blasting a referee’s whistle for almost an hour and a half – that’s the overall tone of Kid Sister.

But it’s not just the grim, monotonous invective that makes Kid Sister such a non-starter despite its high-decibel attempts to be otherwise. Demi, the character at the center of the plot, is so over-the-top in her delusional self-centeredness that she’s never once believable. I get it – she’s supposed to be up to her eyeballs in denial about the bleak reality of her situation and/or profoundly damaged by years of drugs and abuse. But even taking such limitations into account, it’s simply not believable that a 19-year-old with a functioning brain stem would be so mired in fairy tale-level delusion. Prattling on about how she’s going to be rich, famous and hanging out with Gwen Stefani in six months, Demi sounds like a bratty five-year-old.

Even if Demi’s extreme pipe dreams were believable, Kern gives us no reason to care about them – or her or any one she interacts with. His plot is a series of unfortunate events strung together with all the dramatic tension of so many non-sequitors. When Demi’s stalker (Marc Singletary) finally shows up, it’s a shrugging so-what kind of moment. When Demi’s brother (Darrell Cox) makes an unexpected revelation , it’s about as momentous as a traffic report. When splatter-film-worthy violence erupts in the piece’s denouement, the result isn’t edginess or horrifying – it’s just cheesy gory like a scene out of a bargain basement haunted house. But unlike a low-budget haunted house scene, this Sister is simply no fun.

   
   
Rating:
 
 

Kid Sister continues through Dec. 19 at Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway. Tickets are $30 Thursdays, $35 Fridays,Saturdays and Sundays, For ticket information, click here or go to www.profilestheatre.org.

Kid Sister poster - Profiles Theatre Chicago

 

Continue reading

REVIEW: To Kill a Mockingbird (Steppenwolf Theatre)

 

Talented cast tells a timeless story

 

 

   
Steppenwolf Theatre presents
   
To Kill A Mockingbird
   
Dramatized by Christopher Sergel
Based on the novel by Harper Lee
Directed by
Hallie Gordon
at
Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
through November 14  |  tickets: $15-$20   |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

In David Mamet’s “Three Uses of the Knife, his non-fiction book on the art of playwriting, he describes his detest for plays that set out to soapbox. In his view, works that preach a message selfishly leave the audience out of the discussion. For if the spectator isn’t given the opportunity to provide his own interpretation of the work, isn’t it propaganda and not art?

But David Mamet’s word isn’t scripture. And there’s no question that To Kill a Mockingbird has artistic merit, especially in its current staged incarnation produced by Steppenwolf for Young Adults.

Yes, the story is pretty straightforward and provides little moral conflict for today’s audiences. We know from the beginning we are supposed to side with the stately Samaritan Atticus Finch (Philip R. Smith), and root against the slackjawed, pitchfork-toting townsfolk. We know that Tom Robinson (Abu Ansari) is innocent beyond a reasonable doubt and that Scout (Caroline Heffernan) is going to be as feisty as she is precocious.

So ethical dilemmas and non-archetypical characters aren’t To Kill a Mockingbird’s strong points. But the piece stands as an important historical drama, a reminder that although we live in a nation where everyone is created equal, some are more equal than others.

Of equal importance is the fact that the play offers up some really outstanding roles for young actors. And Steppenwolf’s stellar cast does not disappoint. Heffernan brings to the role of Scout a Punky Brewster tomboy quality that is tough without sacrificing cuteness. Zachary Keller nails Dill’s Alabama droll. Claire Wellin (who I last saw in Profile Theatre’s amazing production of Killer Joe) delivers an emotionally charged performance as Mayella Ewell, the young woman alleging rape. She is certainly an actress to watch.

Director Hallie Gordon conveys the smallness of Maycomb, Ala. by relying on a compact set that stays stationary throughout the production. The Finch’s home is steps from the Radley’s, which is only steps from Mrs. Dubose’s. This helps intensify the rising action of the play, as we can better sense the proximity of the danger that threatens Atticus and his family.

If you want to introduce your children to drama, Steppenwolf’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a good start. Most seventh and eighth grade children have already read the book, so it’s safe to say the content is age appropriate for young teenagers. However, younger children may find the themes of murder and rape to be too adult.

For top-notch child talent and a timeless story, go see the Steppenwolf’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Performances run October 12 – November 14, 2010 in Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted Street.  Weekday matinees (Tuesdays – Fridays at 10 am) are reserved for school groups only, with weekend (Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday) performances available to the public.

 

 

Continue reading

Review: Steppenwolf’s 5th-Annual First Look Repertory of New Works

You Have Never Seen These Before

For the past five years, Steppenwolf’s First Look Repertory of New Work has given Chicago audiences the unique opportunity to view works in progress for the very first time in the intimate setting of Steppenwolf’s Garage Theater. All three plays in this year’s First Look series are still in development, and are likely to undergo changes before being produced again.

09 First Look PlaywrightsFirst Look Playwrights: (left to right) Ensemble member Eric Simonson with Laura Jacqmin and Laura EasonPhoto by Elizabeth Fraiberg. 


Honest

Written and Directed by Eric Simonson
Thru August 9 (buy tickets)
Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Honest, written and directed by Steppenwolf ensemble member Eric Simonson, is the tragic story of best-selling memoirist Guy (Erik Hellman), a man whose past is much stranger than his novel’s fiction. When the factuality of his memoir is challenged by a reporter (Martin McClendon), a Mametian game of deception and blackmail unfolds, with both men’s futures hanging in the balance. Meanwhile, Guy’s past is revealed in a series of flashbacks chronicling the events that shaped the pathological liar seen at the start of the show.

The actors are faced with the unenviable task of bringing to life Simonson’s very dark world, and they due so magnificently. Hellman specifically must play the same character in four different time periods with four extremely different circumstances, and he manages to capture the fear and pain of a tormented soul with the charisma of a man who has been lying and getting away with it for years. Kelly O’Sullivan is heartbreaking as Guy’s cousin Casey, and when the two actors share the stage together the production truly shines.

Where the play falters a bit is in the opening and closing scenes between Guy and Martin, the reporter. Martin seems overly eager to share personal information with a complete stranger, and while it can be justified as forward movement for the plot, it simply did not ring true to the general conduct between an interviewer and his subject. Beyond that quibble, Honest is an engrossing examination of one man’s attempt to hide from his past, and the cruel truth that no matter where he goes, it always finds him.

Rating: «««

 



Sex with Strangers

Written by Laura Eason
Directed by Jessica Thebus
Thru August 9 (buy tickets)
Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Thirty-something struggling writer Olivia’s (Amy J. Carle) world is turned upside down when she finds herself romantically involved with self-proclaimed asshole blogger Ethan Strange (Stephen Louis Grush) in Sex With Strangers, the standout production of this year’s First Look series. Laura Eason’s script seamlessly balances romantic comedy with conflict as Olivia and Ethan’s honeymoon affair begins to feel the pressure of his very public sexual past, and director Jessica Thebus, along with an extremely gifted cast and creative team, has created a production that could easily be transferred to any theater as is.

From the first kiss to the last betrayal, Carle and Grush have the kind of chemistry that makes stage magic. Carle has proven herself an actress of immense depth and talent in the past, but her portrayal of Olivia is one of the most fully realized characters to grace the Chicago stage this season. Her relationship to Ethan is completely believable, in large part due to her male costar’s wonderfully charming characterization.

The two actors handle the rapid-fire banter of Laura Eason’s script with ease, further cementing the realism of the play, and it is real. Sex With Strangers is one of the most honest portraits of love in a world where privacy barely exists and sex is just another bodily function, and it is a must see for Chicago audiences.

Rating: ««««

 



Ski Dubai

Written by Laura Jacqmin
Directed by Lisa Portes
Thru August 9 (buy tickets)
Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Rachel (Hillary Clemons) is an Environmental Friendliness Consultant relocated to Dubai with the daunting task of helping her company’s man-made island achieve "green" certification in Ski Dubai by Laura Jacqmin. Still reeling from a construction accident that left her New York City apartment on the sidewalk 15 stories below, Rachel must juggle living with randy roommate/colleague Perrin (Cliff Chamberlain), his insane wife Amanda (Sadieh Rifai), and a slew of other quirky characters while trying to establish a home for herself in a foreign world.

Clemons does an admirable job balancing Rachel’s naïveté with her growing apathy for not only the project to which she was assigned, but the modern ideology of "new is better than authentic," but the trauma of losing her New York home never seems as bad as she makes it out to be. The supporting actors seem to have been directed to take their characters so over the top that they lose dimension, and the actors get lost in showing the audience how wild they are without finding the motivation behind the action. Rifai stands out as Amanda, infusing her character with genuine anger at a world that never stops letting her down, and Jennifer Coombs is absolutely hilarious as the tactless Doctor that hates Dubai and everyone in it.

Jacqmin’s script struggles to find a balance between cartoonish hijinx and political commentary, and the end result is two-dimensional characters that never seem to have a voice of their own. Of the three plays, Ski Dubai is the one that could use the most retooling before being produced again, but when it is funny, like when Coombs traverses the space wearing invisible skis, it is hilarious.

Rating: ««

Continue reading