Review: Slaughter City (Jackalope Theatre)

  
  

Disciplined, persuasive production nobly delves into tough subjects

     
     

Ryan Heindl in Naomi Wallace's "Slaughter City", produced by Jackalope Theatre.

  
Jackalope Theatre presents
   
  
Slaughter City
    
  
Written by Naomi Wallace
Directed by Kaiser Ahmed
at Raven Theatre’s West Stage, 6157 N. Clark (map)
through June 4  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Naomi Wallace is a committed playwright. She wants her audiences to be equally so, to meet her stories more than half way. Poetic vignettes that defy any consistent time frame, these two hours and twenty minutes of archetypal scenes focus on a packing house in a Brechtian-like factory called Slaughter City.

Ryan Heindl and Kristin Anderson in Naomi Wallace's "Slaughter City", produced by Jackalope TheatreBut that’s as much focus as you get. Mostly the play offers glimpses of the ongoing struggle of the labor movement to be honored, as in fairly compensated, for the work that made America, not just plutocrats, prosper. Wisconsin is only the latest scene of a battle for the soul of America, which is the decency it shows its workers. Fittingly, Jackalope Theatre’s disciplined and persuasive production does it justice.

Wallace offers scenes and work songs of workers and some scabs agitating for a new contract in a slaughterhouse that gives them 20-minute breaks, scars from numerous cuts, premature arthritis, blood poisoning—and meager wages. Presiding over this most recent struggle are avatars from past ones: Cod is the androgynous Irish descendant of a woman who jumped to her death to avoid the flames in the terrible Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 workers behind locked doors over a century ago. In a deal with the devil, namely, the symbolic Sausage Man, emblematic of management, Cod survived but now must engage in every labor conflict from 1910 to the present. (Alas, it’s too nebulous, quixotic and precious a concept to really strike home.)

The specific workers in this latest showdown matter more. They slice up imaginary meat as their boss, Mr. Baquin, practices sexual harassment, improbably insisting on cleanliness despite the abattoir’s appalling conditions. The kill-floor is a seething pit of racial tension, class conflicts, and clandestine romance. All the time these exploited toilers must decide between the kind of solidarity that Cod embodies or the way of death suggested by the Sausage Man.

Kaiser Ahmed’s painstaking (and pains-giving) staging delivers memorable performances—Ryan Heindl’s doomed dyslexic kid, Kristin Anderson’s feisty rebel, Warren Feagins as a guilt-ridden supervisor, Anne Sears as an innocent fire victim, John Milewski as the twisted owner, AJ Ware as conflicted Cod, and Jack McCabe as the sinister Sausage Man. (I’d add Katherine Swan to the list but, lacking any projection, her mush-mouthed Maggot dropped too many lines to register on the stage.)

Discursive and fragmentary, Slaughter City hardly invites its audience to any feast of reason. Like Brecht, Wallace means to keep us at a distance. It’s not clear why: The choice between Cod and the Sausage Man is too obvious for this kind of detachment. Notwithstanding the play’s confusing concepts, Jackalope’s commanding dedication to a difficult story and subject deserves accolades, particularly during hard times where yesterday’s advocacy damnably doesn’t seem to work.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Butchering the carcasses in "Slaughter City", produced by Jackalope Theatre.

Slaughter City, by Naomi Wallace, continues at Raven Theatre’s West Stage, 6157 N. Clark, through June 4th, with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:30pm and Sundays at 3:30pm.  Tickets are $15, and can be purchased by phone (773-340-2553) or online here.  For more information, visit www.jackalopetheatre.org.

  
  

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Review: One Flea Spare (Eclipse Theatre)

  
  

Eclipse tightly weaves sexual and cerebral dark comedy

  
  

Darcy (Susan Monts-Bologna) and Bunce (JP Pierson) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "One Flea Spare” by Naomi Wallace, directed by Anish Jethmalani.  Photo by Scott Cooper

  
Eclipse Theatre presents
   
One Flea Spare
   
Written by Naomi Wallace
Directed by Anish Jethmalani
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $28  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

Charles’ Law: confine elements together, turn up the heat, watch them expand. Prevent them from expanding, and you watch them burst.

It’s a basic principle of chemistry, and a loose outline for any drama in which characters are trapped together during a crisis. The heat, per se, in Naomi Wallace’s 1995 play is in part the Great Plague that ravaged London during the 17th Century, L-R: Morse (Elizabeth Stenholt) and Darcy (Susan Monts-Bologna) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "One Flea Spare” by Naomi Wallace, directed by Anish Jethmalani. Photo by Scott Cooper.and in part the class and sexual inadequacies of her characters: a wealthy couple quarantined inside their home, and the two poor, desperate scavengers who sneak in for shelter.

Twenty five days into a preventative lockdown with boards and a guard (Zach Bloomfield) sealing the couple’s walls and windows, a young servant disguised as a wealthy man’s daughter (Elizabeth Stenholt) and a sailor (JP Pierson) inadvertently extend the couple’s incubation stay from three more days to a full twenty eight. Tensions quickly escalate.

The plague is only the backdrop in Wallace’s story—to some of these characters, it’s more or less a nuisance than a crisis. The real threats within the estate are offenses to each others’ presumptions and social sensibilities: sexual bargaining, class warfare, homoeroticism…One Flea Spare explores these tasty ideas with a steady mix of poetry and prose, absurd comedy and claustrophobic tension.

Even with violence always looming, and several onstage nods to penetration, the experience is more intellectual than visceral. It’s always satisfying to think about, if Morse (Elizabeth Stenholt) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "One Flea Spare” by Naomi Wallace, directed by Anish Jethmalani. Photo by Scott Cooper.only mostly fun to watch. Underneath the play’s linear-plot exterior lies a mosaic play’s heart, mashing together styles and tones, sometimes with enlightening results; other times, the product is more convoluted.

Director Anish Jethmalani is able to help keep the show grounded in places where Wallace doesn’t, knowing not to overwhelm the tightly packed text. Her straightforward and precise staging provides clarity to themes that could easily otherwise be murky. The cast does likewise. This small ensemble is exceptional, especially Brian Parry as the proud, aging, and sometimes oafish house master. Susan Monts-Bologna achieves sympathy without victimhood as his oppressed wife, and JP Pierson conveys a sense of maturity that’s found somewhere in between a young man’s idealism and an adult’s surrender to reality.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Morse (Elizabeth Stenholt, center) introduces herself to William and Darcy Snelgrave (Brian Parry and Susan Monts-Bologna) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "One Flea Spare” by Naomi Wallace, directed by Anish Jethmalani. Photo by Scott Cooper

 

All photos by Scott Cooper

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Adventure Stage Chicago forms new artistic ensemble

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Adventure Stage Chicago announces new Artistic Ensemble

As Adventure Stage Chicago (ASC) prepares to end their sixth season with the Midwest premiere of the pirate musical The Ghosts of Treasure Island, ASC announces the formation of a new artistic ensemble.

The eleven-member ensemble is comprised of actors, designers, directors, stage managers, teaching artists and writers committed to achieving artistic excellence through long-term collaboration and the creation of original work. The ensemble will be directly involved in the proposal of new projects, script development, season selection and the production process. A number of ensemble members also work in classrooms as teaching artists, implementing the company’s Neighborhood Bridges program in Chicago Public Schools. Additionally, ensemble members will serve as ambassadors for the company within the community, playing their part during outreach events at libraries, park districts, neighborhood street festivals and celebrations.

The creation of the ensemble re-focuses the development of new and original work to come from within the company, creating dynamic and transformative theatre experiences by Chicagoans for youth and families of Chicago.

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ASC Ensemble Members:

 

Tom Arvetis
  Tom Arvetis is the founding Producing Artistic Director of Adventure Stage Chicago, where he has directed world premieres of Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back by Jason Tremblay, The Blue House by Jose Cruz Gonzalez, and I Dream in Blues, which he co-wrote with Chicago blues singer Katharine Davis. Additionally, he recently helmed a workshop reading of Dragon/Sky by Elizabeth Wong (Silk Road Theatre Project). Tom is an Emeritus Company Member with Barrel of Monkeys, has acted in award-winning productions with the Neo-Futurists, Bailiwick Repertory Company (now Bailiwick Chicago) and Pyewacket Theatre, among others, and is a veteran sound designer. He is a graduate of Northwestern University.

 

Brian Bell
  Brian Bell recently directed Gossamer for ASC (where he also serves as a teaching artist) and will appear in their upcoming production The Ghosts of Treasure Island. Previously he completed a directing internship with the Carrousel Theater an der Parkaue in Germany and went on to direct The Retreating World by Naomi Wallace at Berlin’s Acud Theater. Brian graduated with a B.A. in Theatre Performance from the University of North Texas, where he directed and adapted Woyzeck by Georg Buechner as a final thesis. Brian is the artistic director of Chicago’s Cabaret Vagabond and has worked with Lincoln Square Theatre, Darknight Productions, Piccolo Theatre, Apple Tree Theatre and Collaboraction. He is an alumnus of the Chicago Directors Lab.

 

Brandon Campbell
  Brandon Campbell has worked for Adventure Stage Chicago as a teaching artist, stage manager and production manager since moving to Chicago in 2001. He is also an Associate of Collaboraction, serving as production manager for Sketchbook 5, 6, 7, 8 and Carnaval. Other production credits include the world premiere of Jose Rivera‘s Massacre at Goodman Theatre (with Teatro Vista), Chicago Sketchfest and several shows with the Neo-Futurists. In his creative time he has worked as a writer/performer (Dark Eyed Strangers), a puppeteer and designer (Laika’s Coffin, The Cay, Joe’s Garage, Beowulf Vs. Grendel), and a sax player (Seeking Wonderland, 2nd Story, Jenn Rhoads Project).

 

Sarah Rose Graber
  Sarah Rose Graber graduated from Northwestern University’s theatre program and received her Acting Certificate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. She was the Circumnavigator Foundation’s Travel Around the World Study Grant Scholar, which enabled her to travel the globe while researching the way theatre is used as a tool for communication and education to encourage social change. She chronicled her journey in a play called Time For Take-Off! She adapted The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe into a bilingual play for English and Spanish viewers and Edmund Spenser‘s epic poem “The Faerie Queene” into a mask play she directed called IMAGO, for which she received the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts Grant (CIRA) and the Program in the Study of the Imagination Grant (PSI). Chicago credits include Northlight Theatre, Metropolis Performing Arts Center, Strawdog Theatre, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy, Village Players Theatre, and Factory Theatre, where she is also a company member.  As a teaching artist, Sarah has taught and directed for Northlight Theatre, Arts Berwyn, Chicago Children’s Humanities Festival, the National High School Institute at Northwestern, Neighborhood Bridges, and many residencies at Chicago area schools.

 

Laura Kollar
  Laura Kollar attended Loyola University Chicago, where she earned degrees in Theater and Psychology. Costume design credits at Adventure Stage Chicago include Gossamer, Holes, The Blue House, The Cay and Shakespeare Stealer. She co-designed Still Life With Iris with fellow ASC ensemble member Jessica Kuehnau and helped create costumes for Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back and I Dream in Blues.  Laura’s work has also been seen with Actor’s Theatre Company, Theatre Mir, Lookingglass Theatre, Collaboraction, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Serendipity Theatre, North Park University and Pegasus Players, among others.

 

Jessica Kuehnau
  Jessica Kuehnau‘s previous designs for ASC have included sets for Eye of the Storm, The Shakespeare Stealer, and The Blue House, and costumes for Still Life with Iris, Search for Odysseus and Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back. Since completing her MFA in Scenic and Costume Design at Northwestern University, Chicago design credits include Rivendell Theatre, Pegasus Players, Lifeline Theatre, Griffin Theatre, Backstage Theatre Company, MPAACT, The Building Stage, Metropolis Performing Arts Center, and Light Opera Works. She is also full time faculty and resident scenic designer at Northeastern Illinois University, as well as the resident set designer and design professor at North Park University.

 

Allison Latta
  Allison Latta is a graduate of the theatre program at Virginia Tech. She has also studied Commedia dell ‘Arte with Anotonio Fava in Reggio Emelia, Italy. Chicago performance credits include Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, Strawdog Theatre and Redmoon Theatre. She was a founding member of TriArts, Inc. and created four original Commedia shows with that company, including Hfob-N-Ffos, which was named a Best of Fringe show at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. She has appeared in ASC’s productions of Sideways Stories from the Wayside School, And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank, Still Life With Iris, The Ash Girl, Holes and Gossamer. She can also be seen in a number of national commercials and independent films. She has worked as a teaching artist with ASC, Gallery 37 and Metropolis Performing Arts Center

 

Scott Letscher
  Scott Letscher is currently the Managing Director of Adventure Stage Chicago. He was a company member of the late, lamented Terrapin Theatre for over ten years, where he served for two years as their Artistic Director. At Terrapin, he directed the After Dark Award-winning production of Aunt Dan and Lemon, the world premiere of Requiem in a Light Aqua Room by Sean Graney, The Rimers of Eldritch, The Sneeze and Public/Privacy. He appeared in the Terrapin productions Nina Variations, Blue Remembered Hills, The Pooka and Daniel O’Rourke, The Kramer and Laurel and Hardy Sleep Together. He also spent four years with the Children’s Theatre Fantasy Orchard as an actor and adaptor. He received a Theatre Arts degree from Marquette University.

 

Jana Liles
  Jana Liles came to Chicago after receiving her B.F.A. in Theatre from Emporia State University in her home state of Kansas. She completed her M.F.A. in Theatre from The Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. She has performed with such theatre companies as Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Light Opera Works, Quest Theatre Ensemble, The GreyZelda Theatre Group, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy and Adventure Stage Chicago, while also appearing in numerous films, local television programs and commercials. An accomplished singer and dancer, she has also been fortunate enough to perform in front of thousands of people at the Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park. In addition to serving as ASC’s Marketing Coordinator, she is the Casting Director at BackStage Theatre Company.

 

Merissa Shunk
  Merissa Shunk has been with Adventure Stage Chicago since 2007 as the Director of Education. Before moving to Chicago she lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She is originally from sunny California where she studied theatre, taught theatre, and studied how to teach theatre at UCLA and Santa Clara University. She has freelanced as a curriculum writer and teaching artist for the Silk Road Theater Project, is the Fine Arts Curriculum Advisor at Rowe Elementary School, and has been a mentor (Drama Mama) in Redmoon Theater‘s Mentoring program, Drama Girls.  In fall of 2008 she co-founded the Chicago Arts Educator Forum and also serves on the board of the Illinois Theatre Association.

 

Brandon Wardell
  Brandon Wardell is a freelance Lighting and Scenic Designer in Chicago. He holds an MFA from Northwestern University and teaches at several universities, including Northwestern University, Columbia College Chicago, The University of Chicago, and Illinois Wesleyan. Recent lighting credits include The Hollow Lands (Steep Theatre), On An Average Day (Backstage Theatre Company), The Arab-Israeli Cookbook (Theatre Mir), John & Jen (Apple Tree Theatre), The Robber Bridegroom (Griffin Theatre) and The Blue House (ASC).  Scenic Designs include Maria’s Field (TUTA), In Arabia We’d All Be Kings (Steep Theatre), Holes (ASC), Dracula (The Building Stage) and Be More Chill (Griffin Theatre).