REVIEW: Redeemers (New Leaf Theatre)

  
  

Struggling to save the corporate soul

  
  

Pat King, Joel Ewing and Marsha Harman -  Photo by Tom McGrath

   
New Leaf Theatre presents
   
Redeemers
  
Written by Bilal Dardai
Directed by
Jessica Hutchinson
at
Rocco Ranalli’s Pizzeria, 1925 N. Lincoln (map)
through Dec 19  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

A distinctly Eighties vibe pervades New Leaf Theatre’s production, Redeemers — and it’s not just that Pat King, who plays Nick, resembles a young James Spader both in looks and acting style. Directed by Jessica Hutchinson and set in the warm, casual and seasonally festooned environs of Rocco Ranallli’s back dining room, Redeemers revisits class warfare in the same way Eighties Brat Pack films explored them—as if Redeemers_NL_6photo by Tom McGrathsome black and white lesson in morality could be drawn from the conflict.

Nick, Mercy (Marsha Harman) and Abel (Joel Ewing) all work for Charles Edwin of Edwin Financial, then meet at their favorite watering hole each evening to rehash their existence under Mr. Edwin’s rule. Playwright Bilal Dardai gives these characters a sharp, witty and convincingly incestuous rapport while King, Harman and Ewing mark their territory at Ranalli’s with their tight, responsive and slightly sinister threesome. One never questions that they have known each other for years and can map each other’s moods by the stalling tactics they engage in or from the drinks they order. Over time, one silently asks what draws these three together besides shared history or a mutual workplace.

But never mind about that now. Charles Edwin dominates all their thoughts. His role in their lives infects even happy hour, when they might truly desire a break from the boss. Fine enough that they should grouse about Mr. Edwin when he was a tyrant, but a sudden change of heart—literally a double-bypass surgery—transforms him into the noble, fair and generous employer of Charles Dicken’s dreams. All of which strikes the threesome with incredulity and is simply too much for Nick, for one, to take. He masterminds with Mercy and Abel a series of relentless pranks meant to test Mr. Edwin just to see how far his personal reformation endures.

Sadly, the play suffers from the very thing it is founded upon—storytelling style theater. The most significant events have already occurred and must be related to the audience through the obviously suspect threesome. The cast is smart, charming and play their roles to second-skin perfection but the storytelling style inevitably dampens emotional immediacy. Redeemers_NL_5photo by Tom McGrathEven Nick’s obsession with Mr. Edwin loses tension because he must always be spoken of in the past tense. Even the jokes scripted to make fun of the style cannot relieve its subtly annoying impact. The only segment that doesn’t suffer is Abel’s tragic childhood account regarding his father.

New Leaf has engaged Dardai’s script with thoroughly professional talent to make it present; its crackling dialogue alone indicates the emergence of a promising new playwright that should be watched. However Redeemer’s wrap-up is as paper thin, implausible and morally simplistic as the Eighties films mentioned above. Tyrant or reformed saint, one has the boss one has and acquiesces to that arrangement as part of the cost of accepting the hierarchy of corporate life. Or one joins a commune or a co-operatively owned business—a choice that these cynical three, no doubt, would mercilessly ridicule over a scotch and soda.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Redeemers_NL_002-1093834846-O

FEATURING

Pat King
Joel Ewing
Marsha Harman

PRODUCTION

Assistant Director: Josh Sobel
Production Manager: Marni Keenan
Stage Manager: Tara Malpass
Dramaturg: Emily Dendinger
Environment Design: Michelle Lilly
Sound & Projections Design: Nick Keenan
Costume Design: Rachel Sypniewski

  
  

REVIEW: Curse of the Starving Class (New Leaf Theatre)

New Leaf’s “curse” satisfies

 starvingclass1

 
New Leaf Theatre presents
 
Curse of the Starving Class
 
By Sam Shepard
Directed by
Kyra Lewandowski
Lincoln Park Cultural Center, 2045 N. Lincoln Park W. (map)
thru May 22nd  |  tickets: $10-$18  | more info

reviewed by Barry Eitel

Sam Shepard’s best work always revolves around families. Some say that the American drama is family drama, and Shepherd definitely makes a strong case for this argument. His scathing True West, Pulitzer-winning Buried Child, and gritty A Lie of the Mind all focus on entangled, screwed-up families. Curse of the Starving Class, one of his other heralded “family tragedies,” is as blazing and cut-throat as the rural svclass2 California homestead it’s set in. It focuses on a family with standard structure—father, mother, son, and daughter—but with destructive tendencies. Transforming the Lincoln Park Cultural Center into the dilapidated familial residence, New Leaf does an excellent job capturing Shepherd’s gangster flick yet Aeschylean essence, although some moments are over-broiled and muddy.

The titular “curse” and the titular “starving class” are mentioned several times throughout the play, but neither is really explained at all. The drunken patriarch Weston (John Gray) describes a curse passed down for generations, from father to son, but doesn’t mention any details as to why their family is possessed or the consequences of this venom. The term is also thrown around in regards to the daughter’s first period, her entrance to adulthood. Shepherd is toying around with Classical ideas of fate, but with a horrifically modern twist: no one remembers what the curse is. The characters also have different opinions on the starving class, which is less of an economic distinction and more of a mental illness. The result is a titillating mixture of Aristotelian theory and post-modern sensibility, like if O’Neill wrote a B-movie.

The family, never given a last name, eke out an existence in a broken-down farmhouse; their front door smashed apart by Weston. We are privy to the kitchen area (they are the starving class, after all), and watch as each member contrastingly defile or rebuild the disgusting room. We see the idealistic son Wesley (Layne Manzer) urinate in the food prep area, yet later he attempts to replace the broken door. Ella (Victoria Gilbert), the matriarch, half-heartedly keeps order, and the much-maligned daughter Emma (Alyse Kittner) can’t stand the place. Weston, for all the destruction he causes, takes a shot at revitalizing the house in the final act. The world is ground-up and fallible; the characters attempt change, but can they escape their curse?

Kyra Lewandowski takes on this powerful script with gusto. Her staging is visceral, but sometimes misguided. A couple of very crucial moments take place in the eviscerated doorway, which is concealed from a good chunk of the audience. The production also adds some spooky shadow-work to push the play into a more abstract realm, but Shepherd’s grinding text doesn’t need it. Lewandowski’s expressionist choice distracts rather than adds, but it is fortunately rarely used. Michelle Lilly O’Brien’s set and Jared Moore’s lights fill the otherwise welcoming Lincoln Park Cultural Center with gloom and decay, providing the cast with one unappetizing kitchen.

svclass3 starvingclass7
svclass6 svclass8 svclass10

The cast finds connections with Shepherd’s sometimes cryptic characters, and the entire show breathes and broods. Manzer’s Wesley can be a bit too manic, but Manzer clearly knows Wesley’s vulnerabilities. Gilbert sits in the world the best, making Ella’s most bizarre moments feel natural and understandable. Against both of these powerful actors, Kittner scratches and scrambles, which works for Emma. Gray shines in the last act, but earlier he overplays the drunken stupor and comes off as ungrounded. As the land-grabbing lawyer, Kevin Gladish can’t really penetrate Shepherd’s realm, seeming wooden and unsure. This is difficult territory to conquer, however, and the cast steps up to the challenge and they are not afraid to tear right into it.

There is a lot of important information that is left unsaid in Curse, leaving the audience unsettled and probing in the dark. Lewandowski and her team understand this critical aspect—they know to close doors as they open windows. Minus a few failings, New Leaf Theatre has a self-destructive, nauseating success.

 
 
Rating: ★★★
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

Show closings – last chance to catch ‘em!

chicagoSkyline

show closings

Abe’s in a Bad Way Free Street Theater (review ★★★)

Air Guitar High Northwestern University

A Chorus Line Village Players Performing Arts Center

The Informer Prop Thtr

J.B. Chicago Fusion Theatre (review ★★★½)

Messiah on the Frigidaire Hubris Productions (review ★★★½)

Number of People Piven Theatre Workshop (review ★★★)

The Pillowman Redtwist Theatre (review ★★★)

Science Fiction Actors Gymnasium (review ★★★½)

Side Man Metropolis Performing Arts Centre (review ★★★★)

A True History of the Johnstown Flood Goodman Theatre (review ★½)

Twelve Angry Men Raven Theatre (review ★★★)

 chicagoatnight

this week’s show openings

Billy: A Post-Apocolyptic Comedy Northwestern University

Bloom Bailiwick Chicago

Cabaret The Hypocrites

Curse of the Starving Class New Leaf Theatre

Days of Late – SiNNERMAN Ensemble at the Viaduct Theatre

The Diary of Anne Frank Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Doctor’s Dilemma ShawChicago

Elictracidad – DePaul’s Merle Reskin Theatre

Endgame Steppenwolf Theatre  (our review ★★★½)

The Farnsworth Invention TimeLine Theatre

Girls vs. Boys The House Theatre of Chicago

Hephaestus Lookingglass Theatre

An Ideal HusbandColumbia College at Getz Theatre

Little Women: The Musical Loyola University Chicago

Los Nogales Millenium Park and Teatro VistaTheatre with a View

The Musical of Musicals (The Musical) Dominican University

Oliver Rising Stars Theatre Company

The Original Improv Gladiators Corn Productions

Moses in Egypt Chicago Opera Theater

Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry Piccolo Theatre

Spring Awakening Promethean Theatre Ensemble

The Taming of the Shrew Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek 20% Theatre Chicago

Welcome to Arroyo’s American Theater Company

Chicago theater openings/closings this week

chicagoriverblast

show openings

Anna, in the Darkness: The Basement

Dream Theatre

Bastards of Young Tympanic Theatre

Calls to Blood The New Colony

Cats Cadillac Palace Theatre

Dooby Dooby Moo Lifeline Theatre

Everyone’s Favorite Lobster Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Flaming Dames in Vamp II New Millenium Theatre

Heroes Remy Bumppo Theatre

The House on Mango Street Steppenwolf Theatre

The Last Unicorn Promethean Theatre

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Filament Theatre Ensemble

The Man Who Was Thursday New Leaf Theatre

Mrs. Gruber’s Ding Song School Gorilla Tango Theatre

Plans 1 Through 8 from Outer Space New Millenium Theatre

Rachel Corn and the Secret Society Corn Productions

You Can’t Take It with You Village Players Performing Arts Center

 

Skyline-Chicago

show closings

Ah, Wilderness! Loyola University Chicago Theatre

Bad Touch and the Deep End Annoyance Theatre 

Dirty Talking Amish Gorilla Tango Theatre

Dracula Oak Park Festival Theatre

The History Boys – Timeline Theatre 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Court Theatre

The Night SeasonVitalist Theatre

Rent Big Noise Theatre

Sleeping Beauty Big Noise Theatre

Stripped: An Unplugged Evening with Marilyn’s Dress Gorilla Tango Theatre

Chicago Theater Show Openings

BAD GUYS IN SUITS – Apollo Studio Theatre

BANK OF A-MATTRESS-CA – Gorilla Tango Theatre

CHANSONS D’AMOUR – Chicago a cappella

A CHORUS LINE – Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre

COMEDY AFTER CURFEW – Cornservatory

GHOSTS – Storefront Theater

THE LONG COUNT – New Leaf Theatre

LYSISTRATA – Dominican University Performing Arts Center

THE MIRACLE WORKER – Lincoln Square Theatre

MOJO – Chicago ScriptWorks

MOVEMENT/GENTLEMEN – Storefront Theater

MOVIN’ OUT – Paramount Theatre

MOZART’S LA CLEMENZA DI TITO – Chicago Opera Theater

THE OVERWHELMING – Next Theatre

PAT PATTON – Cornservatory

RED NOSES – Strawdog Theatre

THE RIVALS – Polarity Ensemble Theatre

SKETCHBOOK FESTIVAL – Collaboraction Theatre

URINETOWN – The Theatre School at DePaul University

WHAT IS LOVE? – Gorilla Tango Theatre

Chicago theater tidbits: New Leaf Theatre, Masha Obolensky, Goodman

Centerstage Chicago: Sarah Terez Rosenblum reviews “Touch” at New Leaf Theatre. (runs Jan 7 thru Feb 14)

TheatreinChicago.com reports on the upcoming world premier of playwright Masha Obolensky’s “Not Enough Air”, directed by Nick Bowling; produced by Timeline Theatre. More at BroadwayWorld.com. (runs Jan 24 thru March 22)

Chris Jones reviews “The Emperor Jones”, by Eugene O’Neill, now playing at The Goodman Theatre (awarding it 3.5 stars).  Jones interjects an interesting sideline regarding O’Neill’s underlying racism through his use of exaggerated stereotypes:

Eugene O’Neill wasn’t the only 20th Century American playwright to be afflicted by the scourge of racism. He was just the best of them.

TimeOut Chicago’s Ten Best Shows of 2007

It’s that time of the year again – when theater critics, websites and periodicals post their Best-of-the-Year lists.  So here’s the first, a “Year’s Best” list from TimeOut Chicago:

1.  The Adding Machine (Next Theatre – and soon Off-Broadway)

 2.  August: Osage County (Steppenwolf – and now currently receiving rave reviews on Broadway)

 3.  The Strangerer (Theater Oobleck)

 4.  Merchant on Venice (Silk Road Theatre Project)

 5.  Jerry Springer – The Opera (Bailiwick Repertory)

 6.  The Resistible Rise of Aruturo Ui (Steep Theatre)

 7.  Weapon of Mass Impact (A Red Orchid Theatre)

 8.  Mr. Spacky..The Man Who Was Continuously Followed byWolves (Strange Tree Group)

 9.  Another Day in the Empire (Black Sheep Productions)

 10. The Dining Room (New Leaf Theatre)

To see the complete list, along with TimeOut’s descriptions of each show, go to the article on TimeOutChicago’s website.