Review: The Warriors (The New Colony)

     
     

Survivor story speaks from the heart, but the message Is muddled

  
  

Mary Hollis Inboden - Anne Peterson - New Colony

  
The New Colony presents
  
The Warriors
  
Conceived by Mary Hollis Inboden
Written by Evan Linder
Directed by Benno Nelson
at Second Stage Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
through April 17  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

I cannot possibly begin to fathom the experience that Mary Hollis Inboden has lived through. The New Colony company member and the conceiver of its new production, The Warriors, was a student at Westside Middle School in 1998 when two students opened fire on their peers. When the carnage had ended, five people, including Mary’s best friend, were killed.

An incident as horrific as the Jonesboro Massacre—as the press dubbed it—sticks with you, sending shockwaves throughout the rest of your life. Although most of us are not survivors of school shootings, we do eventually suffer a life-changing tragedy that stamps itself on our psyches. And with each individual, it affects him or her differently.

Wes Needham, Mary Hollis Inboden - Anne PetersonThat is what The Warriors attempts to explore, the notion that a shared horrific experience affects the lives of those involved in different ways. We do not witness the actions of that day, but we do watch the fallout.

The play begins in the present day with Mary, as herself, on a date with Jeff (Wes Needham). Jeff mentions that he heard Mary’s NPR interview, the one where she is speaking as a school shooting survivor. In the interview, she advises the students at Virginia Tech to band together and collectively cope with their pain. Mary tells Jeff that because she abandoned her Westside peers, she feels her advice was disingenuous.

Mary decides to send an e-mail to her old student body, informing them she wants to discuss the shooting. And so she returns to Jonesboro where she interacts with several old friends, each of whom has dealt with the weight of remembering in a unique way.

Mary Hollis Inboden’s performance is a testament to how much passion she has for the material and compassion she has for the other survivors. Playing yourself as others may see you takes courage, vulnerability and humility. I also commend Mary on her drive to get The Warriors on stage. So many would rather suppress the darkness Sarah Gitenstein, Michael Peters and Mary Hollis Inbodenin their lives. But Mary understands that the past is not your choice, and it is an inseparable part of you, a part that as an artist must be explored and shared.

However, this piece would have been significantly more powerful had it been scaled down to either a one-woman show or a series of monologues. Instead, the characters busily interact with each other, which diminishes the audience’s ability to connect with them and vice versa.

In addition, this kind of personal piece doesn’t seem conducive to The New Colony’s process. Instead of relying on a single playwright, the theatre company collaboratively creates its productions. I’m not clear on how a group of individuals who did not live through the experience and cannot speak for Mary’s point of view can adequately contribute to the piece. Furthermore, by having them contribute, the lines between reality and dramatization begin to blur. And that undercuts some of the play’s intensity.

If we’re going to plunge into personal tragedy, I want as much vulnerability on stage as possible. And although Mary lays her heart on the line, the other characters lack a certain genuineness. It’s not about the acting. It’s about the way the story is told. And I think Mary can tell this tale better herself.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

(L to R)  Whit Nelson, Nicole Pellegrino, Michael Peters, Sarah Gitenstein, Wes Needham, Mary Hollis Inboden

The Warriors runs March 17 – April 17 at the Second Stage Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield Ave. Opening/Press night is Sunday, March 20 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are now on sale. The production runs Thursdays – Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at 773.413.0TNC (0862) or thenewcolony.org.

  
  

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Review: Lost & Found: Recycled Circus (Actors Gymnasium)

  
  

Energetic production will charm, warm and wow you

  
  

Lost and Found - Little Circus Actors Meredith Tommy Tomlins rehearsing for Lost and Found - Actors Gymnasium
   
  
The Actors Gymnasium presents
  
Lost and Found: a Recycled Circus
 
Created by Larry DiStasi and Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi
at
Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston (map)
thru March 13  |  tickets: $10-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

There’s something rather “Mad Max” about Lost and Found: a Recycled Circus. Its child performers are costumed in ragged, industrial odds and ends, recalling Tina Turner and the Thunderdome more than an Actors Gymnasium production at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. An apocalyptic circus at the end of the world suits, with its the rag-tag cast carrying on with life’s basic concerns and recreating new wonder out of the old and nearly forgotten. Under the direction of Larry DiStasi, a circus tradition is handed down to younger generations—a little worn and hodge-podge, but no less exciting for all that.

Andrew Adams, Zoe Boyer, Will Howard, Matt Roben, Meredith “Tommy” Tomlins and Lindsey Noel Whiting make up the adult members of the cast, stumbling clownishly through their own dilemmas of losing and finding love. Matt Roben, in baggy clown pants, timidly and haltingly pursues Lindsey Noel Whiting who, prior to the start of the show, tries to sell concessions that include uncooked parsnips and cans of spam. Roben, who has enough on his hands with mischievous kids cramping his dating game, has a rival in the hilariously portly Will Howard, who gives Whiting a date she’ll never forget—for all the wrong reasons.

 

 

DiStasi’s direction intersperses sly and nuanced clowning with aerial work on some pretty tough and industrial circus apparatus. Imposing an almost threatening presence is an aerial ring attached to ladders that form a cone at the top and bottom. Besides an elegant performance on it rendered by two young women in synchronized movement, Whiting also takes a daring turn on it to the tune of Queen’s “Somebody To Love.” If that were not enough, on a spare tire hung from the ceiling, Whiting’s acrobatic work alone thrills with its inherent danger. Meanwhile, Andrew Adams creates wordless, impressive poetry with two suspended cords and an umbrella to an instrumental version of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.”

Lost and Found is brilliant in bits and moments. Some of these inspire with Dada-esque disjointedness, as when Hannah Schwimmer sings “Poor Wandering One” with the introduction of Howard. But the integration of Actors Gymnasium Teen Ensemble into the storyline between Roben, Whiting and Howard seems to almost be an afterthought. Their numbers create a brilliant visual impact during a choreographed juggling sequence with Adams and their drumming with the younger cast members boosts the excitement of the show. But for a high-concept sort of circus, it’s curious that their acrobatic work is not integrated with the rest of the story. DiStasi tacks their turn at the teeterboard at the end—and as an encore to the production.

Still, it’s an encore that produces a burst of energy and that’s the most beautiful thing about Lost and Found. On these final chilly and rainy days of winter, this production will charm, warm and wow you.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Lost and Found: A Recycled Circus, featuring aerial acrobatics, live music, and magical, found-object invention, continues through March 13th at the Noyes Cultural Center.  Performance schedule: Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 4:30 and 7:30pm, Sundays 3:00pm.

     
Teen Actors Gymnasium Team Evanston Will Howard performs with kids from the Actors Gymnasium for production 'Lost and Found a recycled circus'
     
     

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REVIEW: Science Fiction Circus (The Actors Gymnasium)

Cute kids, talented teens and a few pros create marvelous science-fiction circus

 Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus

 
The Actors Gymnasium presents
 
Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus
 
Conceived, written and directed by Larry DiStasi
At Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston
Through April 18
(more info)
 
reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes
 

Five professional performers, eleven up-and-coming members of The Actors Gymnasium Teen Ensemble and five pint-sized prodigies bring the high-flying Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus to life in a whirl of color and sound.

Robots, aliens, monsters and an impressive lineup of circus acts come together in this show, conceived and directed by The Actors Gymnasium Artistic Director of Programming Larry DiStasi, a founder of Lookingglass Theatre. We start off with a quartet of mini mad scientists and their unfortunate subject (Griffin DiStasi, Jude Sims, Sadie Sims, Asher White and Julia Science Fiction: An Experiment in CircusWhite), and then segue into a black-lit, fluorescent team of talented, silk-rope-swinging aerialists (Jill Heyser and Kacin Menendez with Teen Ensemble member Meaghan Falvey).

A unicycle dance featuring all 11 members of the Teen Ensemble: Falvey, Gabby Aiden, Lucy Brennan, Sarah Buonaiuto, Lander Ellis, Emily Fishkin, Eleanor Goerss, Jackie Jarvis, Rachel Karn, Leah Orleans and Alison Tye — comes next, followed by Matt Roben as a monster Slinky twisting and contorting around the stage.

Karn, Tye and Nicole Pellegrino next perform an extraordinary and graceful contortionist sequence. Other noteworthy acts include a dance of "Stilts Creatures" by Heyser, Menendez and Pellegrino with Buonaiuto, Ellis and Falvey, a robot strong man act by Menedez and Will Howard, and a whirling Spanish web rope routine by Buonaiuto, Ellis, Fishkin and Orleans.

Another highlight is a vigorous drumming act choreographed by Jarrett Dapier featuring Pellegrino, Falvey and the five children, all delightfully clad as aliens in Spock ears and armor constructed from kitchen gear and designed by Larry DiStasi. Throughout, the costumes, a group effort, compliment the action beautifully, from blacklit neon leotards for aerialists to shiny lame robot outfits.

During interludes between the circus acts, a live band featuring Ellis, Goerss and Roben, sometimes supplemented by Griffin DiStasi, Fishkin and the Whites, plays original music by Greg Hirte, including an eerie trio on oboe, violin and musical saw. The circus acts themselves are performed in perfect time to a riveting soundtrack of found music put together by Larry DiStasi with aid of other cast members that ranges from part of "The Symphony of Science" to Daft Punk’s "Robot Rock” to Basshunter’s "I Can Walk on Water."

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The science-fiction theme creates a cohesive and humorous narrative to hold things together. In all, Science Fiction comprises a notable 30 acts and intervening scenes. On opening night, there were a few missteps but everyone gamely kept on going. Having recently seen the world-class Cirque du Soleil, I don’t need a time machine to say that these young performers are well on their way, and you can see them now for a fraction of the price they’ll command in days to come.

Rating: ★★★½

 
   
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REVIEW: Victory Gardens’ “The Snow Queen”

"The Snow Queen” Rocks, But Will It Endure?

snowqueen-group

Victory Gardens presents:

The Snow Queen

adapted by Frank Galati, Michael Barrow Smith and Blair Thomas
directed by Jim Corti

thru December 27th (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Based on the tale by Hans Christian Anderson, best friends Kai (Andrew Keltz) and Gerda (Leslie Ann Sheppard) enjoy playing together in a garden above the city. Once winter separates them, they must stay in doors, but they still wave to each through 1640391_height370_width560 frosty windows. Brought together one night by Gerda’s grandmother, the two hear for the first time about the Snow Queen, who longs for a little boy to keep her warm. Caught up in a magic spell, Kai is abducted by the Snow Queen and Gerda must embark upon a life-changing odyssey to get Kai back.

I was startled by something that perusing reviews from past years had not prepared me for–composer and lyricist Michael Barrow Smith relies on rock opera for the most powerful numbers accompanying this children’s tale. As the Storyteller, returning Cheryl Lynn Bruce remains the undisputed mistress of ceremonies. However, Smith benefits mightily from the talents of Sue Demel, of the Sons of the Never Wrong, and Barbara Barrow, of the Old Town School of Folk Music, to rock out the arias reserved for the grandmother, the Snow Queen, the Enchantress, and Robber girl. These, by far, are the production’s most haunting and dynamic moments.

Other musical genres bring levity and fun to the proceedings—honky-tonk for Bob Goins reindeer and blues for the gang that waylays Gerda on her quest. But not every musical genre that Smith pulls out of his sleeve is as successful. In fact, the effect can be rather hodge-podge; some moments venturing into Sondheim-esque lyrics subvert direct appeal to a younger audience. Even if those moments are intended for adult consumption, they contribute to the patchwork feel of the overall production.

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Visually, the show still amazes with puppetry designed by Blair Thomas and Meredith Miller. While in charge of most of the puppet performance, as Elves Jackson Evans, Genevieve Garcia, and Nicole Pellegrino bring joyful energy to their storytelling. Curiously, the production lags in demonstrating a stronger emotional connection onstage between Kai and Gerda, so that the stakes can be raised for the story’s loss and radical journey. Whether this is a result of new direction from Jim Corti or just the introduction of Sheppard as a new member to the cast is uncertain, but hopefully it will be rectified in the course of the run. Best friends can’t return if they were never best friends to begin with.

Rating: ★★★

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