REVIEW: Odradrek (House Theatre)

  
  

House Theatre finds its groove

  
  

Odradrek by Brett Neveu - House Theatre of Chicago - music Josh Schmidt - director Dexter Bullard

  
House Theatre of Chicago presents
  
Odradrek
 
Written by Brett Neveu
Music by
Josh Schmidt
Directed by
Dexter Bullard
at
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through March 5  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

reviewed by Barry Eitel

The House Theatre of Chicago isn’t known for their gloominess. They often dip into darker subjects, especially death (Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe, The Nutcracker our review ★★★½), sometimes drugs (All the Fame of Lofty Deedsreview ★★★), and, once, children killing each other with metaphorical handguns (Girls Vs. Boysreview). Their newest offering, Odradek, a riff on Kafka via Brett Neveu, is easily the bleakest story I’ve seen by the puckish group. The promotional material compares the play to Hitchcock, and in a semi-disclaimer, artistic director Nathan Allen warns that the “show is scary.” I firmly believe that the hardest emotion to evoke in an audience is not glee, or sadness, or despair, but fear. To be honest, Odradek never really scared me. And it’s not very Hitchcockian; it feels more like “Saw” meets Beverly Cleary.

Odradrek by Brett Neveu - music Josh Schmidt - director Dexter BullardThe play is beautifully realized by designers Collette Pollard and Lee Keenan. The play works best when seen as performance art, not a intellectual venture. Neveu and Dexter Bullard, two newcomers to the House, want this play to be both a tragically complex story and a macabre poem. They can’t nail down either. Neveu’s language is delightfully lyrical, but it doesn’t make for a coherent piece of drama. Realities, fantasy, and hallucination are blurred and the three characters’ motivations are convoluted. However, the show still takes the audience on a ride in true House style.

The play centers around a Boy (Joey Steakley), who comes from a broken, but not abusive, home. He lives with his Father (David Parkes), who enters into an ethically-questionable romance with the Boy’s Doctor (Carolyn Defrin). The Boy, on the other hand, enters into a relationship with a monster that lives under the stairs, Odradek. Slowly, the Boy slips down a path of confusion and self-mutilation.

The plot has a few holes, which I’ll wager are intentional. The Doctor is pretty clearly a primary care physician, and the Boy very clearly requires some facetime with a psychologist. The Boy’s wounds provided another puzzle, because it wasn’t clear if they were imagined or actual. As the play progresses, the grip on reality loosens and every aspect of the story comes into question.

The Boy’s affliction is linked to his parent’s divorce, but not much is explained. Neveu relies heavily on images, metaphors, and anecdotes for mood, but none of these provide stakes for the Boy. Colors are especially important—the Doctor asks the Boy what color his mother’s eyes are, while Odradek quizzes him about the hues of blood and sinew. But these tangents don’t explain why he misses his mom or why he chooses to hurt himself.

Even with the stylistic clashes, the cast handles the play well. Parkes’ performance is fascinating to watch in his House debut. He gives the Father a gritty, Chicago-style treatment that isn’t found in many House shows. Defrin, always a pleasure, plays against him decently, even though she’s more presentational. Steakley comes off zombiefied in a challenging role, and his age is very hard to pinpoint (I sort of figured he was around 25 but still living at home). He hits astride as his story unravels.

Infusing the company with new blood this season is a truly refreshing idea. In recent years, the House seemed to be stumbling at times. Odradek is a worthy venture and dives into territory that the company had successfully plunged into in the past. But it lacks heft. The play doesn’t reveal much about mental illness, divorce, or a connection between the two. Its value lies in how it strikes the ear, the eye, and the soul – not the mind.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

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Designers get their due at 17th Annual Merritt Awards

Designers celebrate theatre accomplishments

 

2010 Merritt Awards 

By Katy Walsh

Scenery, lights, sounds, costumes; theatre design is devising storytelling beyond the dialogue. On Monday, May 3, 2010, Chicago gathered at the Goodman Theatre to celebrate the role that designers play in the theatre community. The festivities brought together veteran and rookies in the theatre design world for networking and fellowship. The focal point of the evening was the 17th Annual Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration. The award honors the memory of Michael Merritt. Best known for collaborative work with David Mamet, Merritt was a Chicago theatre designer who died at the age of 47 in 1992. The Michael Merritt Endowment Fund preserves Merritt’s legacy with awards acknowledging established designers, nurturing emerging designers and encouraging design students.

The evening started with the 4th Annual Theatre Design Expo. Design students from across the country, along with a handful of Chicago designers, set up displays in the Goodman foyer to showcase their theatre portfolio and aspirations. After viewing the colorful and imaginative exhibits, guests trooped into the Owen Theatre for the Dialogue with the Designers panel discussion. Moderated by the Goodman’s Artistic Director Robert Falls, the group discussed the challenges and accomplishments of collaborative efforts in theatre. The panelists were Michael Bodeen (composer, sound design), 1997 Merritt Award winner John Boesche (projection designer), 2007 Maggio Award and 2004 Merritt Award winner Ana Kuzmanic (costume designer), The House’s Artistic Director Nathan Allen, and tonight’s Merritt honoree Collette Pollard (scenic designer). Following the panel discussion, the awards ceremony commenced.

First, the Michael Merritt Student Scholarships were bestowed on students from Chicago theatre programs:

Costume Design

Jeremy W. Floyd, Northwestern University

Lighting Design

Wade Holliday, Columbia College
The John Murbach Scholarship for Collaborative Design

Scenic Design

Williams G. Wever, The Theatre School at DePaul University 

 


2010 Merritt Awards

Next, the 2010 Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award was awarded. The award honors the memory of Goodman’s Artistic Director Michael Maggio. This year’s recipient:

Scenic Designer

Collette Pollard, 2010 Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award

Pollard’s recent design credits include The Illusion (review ★★★) at Court Theatre, Stoop Stories (review ★★★½) at Goodman Theatre and The House on Mango Street at Steppenwolf Theatre. Her next production opens next week at Writers’ Theatre, Streetcar Named Desire. Pollard has also worked with many Chicago companies, including; The House Theatre of Chicago, Timeline Theatre, Northlight Theatre, and About Face Theatre. Pollard earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts with honors in scenic design from The Theatre School at DePaul University and her Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from Northwestern University. Currently, she teaches at Columbia College Chicago.


The evening climaxed with the Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration presented posthumously in honor of the lighting and scenic design work of Michael Philippi.

Lighting and Scenic Designer

Michael Philippi (1951-2009)

2010 Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration

Philippi passed away suddenly on his way to a technical rehearsal for High Holidays at Goodman Theatre on October 27, 2009. His most recent work was enjoyed at Goodman Theatre in productions of Desire Under the Elms, King Lear, Finishing the Picture, A Life in Theatre, Moonlight and Magnolias, and The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? Philippe also worked with many Chicago, national and international companies including: Northlight Theatre, Court Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Guthrie Theatre, Berkley Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. He was a recipient of Jefferson Awards for Terra Nova and In the Belly of the Beast, both at Wisdom Bridge Theatre, and Hollywood Drama-Logue Awards for Kabuki Medea at Berkley Repertory Theatre and Changes of Heart at Mark Taper Forum.

The 2010 awards program and fundraising event was co-hosted by the Michael Merritt Endowment Fund Steering Committee at Columbia College Chicago and Goodman Theatre. Sponsors included Electronic Theatre Controls, Inc., J.R. Clancy Inc., Schuler Shook, Rent Com, Rose Brand and Steppenwolf Theatre.

2010 Merritt Awards

REVIEW: Girls vs Boys (The House Theatre and AMTP)

Cool atmosphere jilted by annoying show

 

GVB 1

 
The House Theatre and AMTP* presents
 
Girls vs Boys
 
Book/lyrics by Chris Matthews, Jake Minton and Nathan Allen
Music by
Kevin O’Donnell and Nathan Allen
Directed by
Nathan Allen
Music directed by
Ethan Deppe
At the
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
thru May 9th  tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Break-up vs Kill. If given the consequence-free choice, would you have the uncomfortable conversation with the pending ex or just shoot him? The House Theatre, in partnership with the American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern University, presents Girls vs Boys. The lives of six teenagers unravel in a party world GVB 3 of drugs, alcohol, sex and guns. George wants to be cool. Casey wants to feel something. Jason wants his old girlfriend. Sam wants her brother’s respect. Kate wants Jason. Lanie wants safe sex. To get what they want, they pop Ritalin, slam beers, screw friends and fire weapons… all while singing and dancing. Girls vs Boys is “High School Musical” vs “Gossip Girl” where disputes are settled in the Wild West way.

Visual vs Audio: From the moment of arrival, the transformed Chopin Theatre is impressive. Collette Pollard has created a rock concert venue complete with mosh pit. Ticket holders are given the opportunity to join the party in the pit standing or take traditional audience seats. The band is visibly housed on the stage. The action will take place in an area extending in front of the band and encircling the pit. The ensemble will mingle with pit people during scenes. The visual is unique and the anticipation is high.

Then the music starts. The band is loud and it’s hard to hear the singing. There are two hand-held microphones shared between the six main characters. Without the hand-held ones, the entire ensemble is reliant on ear pieces that are inconsistent in volume. To compensate, some of the singing is more like screaming. The screechy tunes might not be noticeable in a rock concert but Girls vs Boys is a musical. Or is it?

GVB 8 GVB 2
GVB 7 GVB 9

Musical vs Concert: A musical is a play with songs. A concert is songs and play. Girls vs Boys is watching kids at a concert sing with the band, act impulsively and mess up their relationships. This show has a long playlist with in-between conversations that are predictable and trite. It’s similar to concert moments when the band goes  unplugged with an anecdote between songs. If Girls vs Boys was all about the music, dialogue would disrupt the concert flow. Unfortunately, the tunes GVB 5themselves are not memorable. Although the band jams rock, the singers project pop. The fusion is awkward. Even though the script dialogue is flawed, the excessive number of songs promotes a strong desire to return to discourse. “Say it! Don’t sing it!”

Singing vs Dancing: Girls vs Boys is more like a concert with great back-up dancers. Tommy Rapley has choreographed high energy numbers for the cast to dance their way into exhaustion. Climbing in and out of the pit, the ensemble has synchronized, gun-toting, dramatic vigor. Notably, whenever one of the guys takes drugs, their shirt comes off. It was oddly like a Public Service Announcement saying ‘don’t take drugs. They make you strip!’ The good news is the guys are ripped. The bad news is it feels like any Jason Statham movie where the weaker the script, the more he takes his shirt off. Shockingly, Girls vs Boys, shirts came off and I STILL didn’t love it!

 
Rating: ★½
 

Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes included a fifteen minute delayed start and a ten minute intermission

Extra Credit:

  • House’s blog entries on Girls vs Boys
  • Chris Jones lists House’s 2010-2011 Season
  • Girls vs Boys production photos courtesy of John Taflan.

*AMTP = American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern University 

 

GVB 6

 

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Review: House Theatre’s “All The Fame Of Lofty Deeds”

A banjo-picking, toe-tapping, tumbleweed-talking good time!

 

The House Theatre of Chicago presents:

All The Fame of Lofty Deeds

At the Chopin Theatre
Written by Mark Guarino
Based on and featuring the music and artwork of Jon Langford
Directed by Tommy Rapley
Thru December 20th (ticket info) 

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

lofty_deeds_poster Chugging whiskey, a forgotten country singer confesses his mistakes to a tumbleweed. The House Theatre of Chicago presents All The Fame of Lofty Deeds. The familiar cowboy skull and cross-guitars painting of Jon Langford is the basis for the character Lofty Deeds, an aging honkytonk singer. Playwright Mark Guarino utilizes the music and artwork of Bloodshot Records recording artist Jon Langford to create this play. As he faces his death, Lofty Deeds struggles with his past decisions. After trading love and family for life on the road under the exploitative pressures of record executives, Lofty is now haunted by the ghosts of musicians past.

Nathan Allen takes on the duality role of Lofty Deeds. He mixes the bitter drunk old man moments with flashback scenes of a naïve country singer at his happiest… on stage. The set design by Lee Keenan feels like a Jon Langford painting with its stark, gritty qualities. Where do has-been country singers go to die? A trailer in the desert, of course. Continuous reminders that this is a show about a man in a painting, director Tommy Rapley has actors don portraits to portray the ghosts of musicians past. On the stage within the stage, the live band adds to the upbeat tempo with memorable songs like “It’s Not Enough” and “The Death of Country Music.”

The story is dark; the forgotten celebrity drinking himself to death. The script is complicated; flashbacks with stories within stories. But like enjoying any country song, don’t get too caught up in the story or words. And appreciate art for art! Take pleasure in the music and the colorful images. What came first – the song or the picture? Langford created the character Lofty Deeds in his song “All The Fame of Lofty Deeds” and in his cowboy skull painting. Guarino took the song and wrote the play. The House Theatre took the play, painting and song have brought it to life on stage. The results, All The Fame of Lofty Deeds is a banjo-picking, toe-tapping, tumbleweed-talking good time.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

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Non-Equity Jeff Nominations – Ubique & Lifeline lead

JeffAwards

 

2009 NON-EQUITY JEFF AWARD NOMINEES

PRODUCTION – PLAY
Enchanted April Circle Theatre
In Arabia We’d All Be Kings Steep Theatre
Mariette in EcstasyLifeline Theatre
The Mark of Zorro Lifeline Theatre
Our TownThe Hypocrites
Rose and the Rime The House Theatre

PRODUCTION – MUSICAL OR REVUE
The Christmas SchoonerBailiwick Repertory Theatre
Evita Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
The Robber BridegroomGriffin Theatre
Woody Guthrie’s American Song – Blindfaith Theatre

DIRECTOR – PLAY
Nathan Allen – Rose and the RimeThe House Theatre of Chicago
David CromerOur Town The Hypocrites
Elise Kauzlaric – Mariette in Ecstasy Lifeline Theatre
Joanie Schultz – In Arabia We’d All Be Kings Steep Theatre
Rick Snyder – Men of Tortuga Profiles Theatre

DIRECTOR – MUSICAL OR REVUE
Fred Anzevino – Evita Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
Fred Anzevino – Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
Mary Beidler Gearen – The Christmas SchoonerBailiwick Repertory Theatre
Paul S. Holmquist – The Robber Bridegroom Griffin Theatre
Nicolas Minas – Woody Guthrie’s American Song – Blindfaith Theatre

ENSEMBLE
Evita Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
In Arabia We’d All Be Kings Steep Theatre
Mariette in Ecstasy Lifeline Theatre
Men of Tortuga Profiles Theatre
Our Bad Magnet Mary-Arrchie Theatre
Woody Guthrie’s American Song – Blindfaith Theatre

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY
Don Bender – Old Times City Lit Theater
Esteban Andres Cruz – Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train Raven Theatre
James Elly – The Mark of ZorroLifeline Theatre
Ryan Jarosch – Torch Song Trilogy – Hubris Productions
Brian Parry – ShadowlandsRedtwist Theatre
Brian Plocharczyk – After Ashley Stage Left Theatre
Bradford Stevens – Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train Raven Theatre

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICAL
Courtney Crouse – Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical Bohemian Theatre
Chris Damiano – EvitaTheo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY
Brenda Barrie – Mariette in Ecstasy Lifeline Theatre
Laura Coover – Blue SurgeEclipse Theatre
Cameron Feagin – Private Lives City Lit Theater
Nancy Freidrich – The Dastardly Ficus and Other Comedic Tales of Woe and Misery The Strange Tree Group
Betsy Zajko – Beholder Trap Door Theatre

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICAL
Laura McClain – The Christmas Schooner Bailiwick Repertory
Maggie Portman – Evita Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
Rachel Quinn – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Circle Theatre
Bethany Thomas – Belle Barth: If I Embarrass You Tell Your Friends Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James

SOLO PERFORMANCE
Janet Ulrich Brooks – Golda’s Balcony Pegasus Players
Alice Wedoff – The Shape of a Girl Pegasus Players

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY
Paul S. Holmquist – The Picture of Dorian Gray Lifeline Theatre
Matthew Sherbach – The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler Dog & Pony Theatre
Kevin V. Smith – Our Bad Magnet Mary-Arrchie Theatre
Madrid St. Angelo – A Passage to India Premiere Theatre & Performance i/a/w Vitalist Theatre
Jon Steinhagen – Plaza SuiteEclipse Theatre
Nathaniel Swift – Blue Surge Eclipse Theatre

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL
Chris Damiano – Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
Chris Froseth – Woody Guthrie’s American Song – Blindfaith Theatre
Jim Sherman – The Christmas SchoonerBailiwick Repertory Theatre

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY
Susan Veronika Adler – Torch Song Trilogy Hubris Productions
Jeannette Blackwell – The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler Dog & Pony Theatre
Nora Fiffer – The Autumn Garden Eclipse Theatre
Mary Hollis Inboden – Torch Song TrilogyHubris Productions
Elise Kauzlaric – On the Shore of the Wide World Griffin Theatre
Lily Mojekwu – Greensboro: A RequiemSteep Theatre
Rinska Prestinary – In Arabia We’d All Be Kings Steep Theatre
Mary Redmon – Enchanted April Circle Theatre

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL OR REVUE
Amanda Hartley – The Robber Bridegroom Griffin Theatre

NEW WORK
Tony Fiorentino – All My Love – Diamante Productions
Robert Koon – Odin’s HorseInfamous Commonwealth Theatre
Frank Maugeri & Seth Bockley – Boneyard PrayerRedmoon Theater
Andrew Park – The People’s History of the United States Quest Theatre Ensemble
Ken Prestininzi – Beholder Trap Door Theatre

NEW ADAPTATION
Fred Anzevino, Arnold Johnston & Joshua Stephen Kartes – Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
Cristina Calvit – Mariette in EcstasyLifeline Theatre
Robert Kauzlaric – The Picture of Dorian Gray Lifeline Theatre
William Massolia – Be More Chill Griffin Theatre
Terry McCabe – Scoundrel Time – City Lit Theater Company
Katie McLean – The Mark of Zorro Lifeline Theatre

For Production and Artistic Team nominations, click on “Read More

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Giving “House Theater” the boot???

springfarm1-small.jpgLooks like one of my favorite theatre companies is losing their performance space.  House Theater has called the barn-like Viaduct its home for a number of glorious years.  The space, located near the corner of Belmont and Western, always has had such a gritty feel to it – tucked away west of Lakeview, one not even knowing that a theater was there if you missed the small “Viaduct” arrow.  But once you got inside, the energy of the space was amazing. House Theater used this yawning space to great advantage, being able to reconfigure the seating to fit the show. 

Unfortunately the Viaduct owners have decided that they would like to take the space towards a new direction.  Not really sure what that means – a music venue?  A bar?  A Gentlmen’s Club?  (yeah, right). 

 I really hope that House Theater will take their time in finding the perfect spot.  Artistic director Nathan Allen reports that they are now looking for a flexible space in the areas of Lincoln Square, Roscoe Village or Uptown.  I personally think that Uptown, somewhere around the Lawrence or Wilson el stops, would be an ideal location, but it all depends on what’s available.  Good luck!

By the way, if you haven’t checked out their smash hit “The Sparrow” at the Apollo Theater, do it now!!

Review: "The Sparrow" at House Theatre

The_Sparrow1-small Only in the world of Chicago theatre can you find such an exciting artistic organization like The House Theatre. Now in its fourth season, The House has energized the city’s theatre audience, creating a huge following of 20-somethings that might not have otherwise gone to theatre. The company never fails to push the theatrical envelope through the combination of artistry, multi-media, and aggressive and ingenious fun – which explains their reward of consistently sold-out performances.

There are two definitive reasons for the success of The House. First of all, they only present new works that are written through a collaboration of members of the company and the actors of the play itself, and it is evident that this creative style empowers the actors and production team so that each member completely engrosses themselves into each production, sweeping the audience with them. Secondly, and most important, the fare that the company creates for their loyal audience is consistently an artistically exuberant experience. It combines engaging video and original music along with pure athleticism and inspiring energy, leaving one’s senses pleasantly exhausted by the end of each show.

In regards to these two points, House Theatre’s newest work, The Sparrow, does not disappoint. The play follows Emily Book (imagine a combination of Stephen King’s Carrie and Wicked’s Elpheba), who has the unexplained power of flight (among other things), earning her the nickname of “Sparrow”. Emily Bock (believably played by Carolyn Defrin), was the lone survivor of a school bus crash in the town of Spring Farms, IL, when she was four, after which she was quickly whisked away to a Catholic boarding school. Now, at age 17, she has come back to Spring Farms, where she has been taken in by Joyce (Evie Sullivan) and Albert (Jonathan Simpson) McGuckin, whose daughter had been killed in the same bus accident. At Emily’s new school, her school counselor, Dan Christopher (charmingly played by Cliff Chamberlain), takes Emily under his wing, introducing her to all of the students, including the school’s class president and cheerleading captain, Jenny McGrath (an enthusiastic Paige Hoffman). Emily’s powers are discovered at a basketball game, when Jenny, during a cheerleading stunt, ends up precariously hanging from a banner high above the gym. Emily flies up and saves her. Through some surprising turn of events surrounding a school dance, the overall arc of The Sparrow is completed, and the play comes to a jarring but satisfying end (fyi: the show will no doubt be the first in a series).

SpringFarm1-smallThe director (the highly-gifted Nathan Allen) and artistic team have come up with some brilliant scene changes and interludes, including a performance in the bio-chemistry lab by the teacher and a host of singing dissected pigs, (singing and big-band-dancing to a Frank Sinatra tune), and a basketball game that is infused with some fun, acrobatic cheerleading and MTV-influenced dancing.

Special kudos must be made to the music and sound design teams: Kevin O’Donnell, Mike Przygoda, Jeremiah Chiu, Michael Griggs and Phil Canzo. Kevin O’Donnell has composed a remarkable score for this play. The music in this work plays a huge role in the telling of the story, and Mr. O’Donnell will no doubt go far in the field.

The Sparrow - pulling the bullet out of teacher's chest There are a few weaknesses in the show, mostly surrounding some missing storyline and the development of the character of cheerleader Jenny McGrath. Although The Sparrow takes place in a make-believe world, there still needs to be some believability in what motivates the characters, and in Jenny’s there is no fore-shadowing to explain the events of the second act.

Nonetheless, if you have not been to a production at The House, you should make plans to sit among the audience as soon as you can. You will have to venture westward-ho of the main theatre districts, but the short jaunt to Belmont and Western is well worth it.

Rating: ★★★½