REVIEW: Cherrywood (Mary-Arrchie Theatre)

Party on, Dude!



Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents
Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable
Written by Kirk Lynn
Directed by
David Cromer
Angel Island Theatre, 735 W. Sheridan (map)
through August 8th  |  tickets:  $13-$22  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Fliers announce ‘Party Tonite for anyone who wants a change.’ Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents the Midwest premiere of Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable.  A foursome decides to host a party. They have three kinds of chips, an array of music, bottles of booze and a shots of… milk? In response to their fliers, the guests arrive and fill up the house. The usual party suspects are all present. Free loading crashers. Whiny girl. Depressed divorced guy. Unwanted neighbor. Gaggle of gals in bathroom line. P.D.A. couple on the dance floor. Hot shirtless guy. Person continually announcing ‘I’m wasted.’ Sporadic drunken wrestling. It feels, looks and sounds familiar except with a couple of twists: Somebody brought a gun. Everybody has been drinking wild wolves’ milk. People are opening boxes of their secret desires. Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable is a virtual reality party experience without the pressure to mingle or the aid of a cocktail.

In a large living-room-like space, the audience seats encircle the action. Closely matched in numbers, the 50+ wallflowers watch the 49 performers party. It’s such a tight fit that I needed to move my purse before a guy sat on it. Director David Cromer has gone fire-code-capacity to create an authentic party.

The proximity blurs the fourth wall completely in deciphering between the party gawkers versus goers. I consciously refrain from shouting out an answer to ‘name a good band that starts with the letter ‘A’.’ It seems like a jumbling of improv mixed in with scripted lines. Crediting playwright Kirk Lynn with some of the best lines, it’s existentialism goes rave with the ongoing philosophy ‘if you want something different, ask for it.’ Lynn writes dialogue describing cocktail banter as ‘question-answer-it-doesn’t-always-happen-like-that’ mockery. One character describes herself with ‘everything I do is a form of nodding. I want to break my neck to stop nodding.’ In a heated exchange, the neighbor jabs, ‘you remember the world? It’s the room outside the door.’ It’s genuine party chatter. Some conversations are playful. Some are deep. Some just don’t make any sense. Clusters of people are sharing philosophical drunken babble throughout the room. A gunshot brings the house of strangers together in a communal bonding alliance.

For the theatre goer looking for a break from classic plot driven shows, Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable is performance art. It is a ‘Party Tonite for anyone who wants a change.’ For those who wonder what Chicago actors and designers do off-season, this is an opportunity to fly-on-the-wall it. If you’ve anticipated they hang out together and party, this would be your imagined drunken haze. The who’s who of storefront theater is boozing it up. It’s a Steep, Lifeline, Dog & Pony, House, Griffin, etc. reunion bash, and man do they know how to party!

Rating: ★★★

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

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REVIEW: Hey! Dancin! (Factory Theatre)

Retro play satirizes modern celebrity



Factory Theatre presents
Hey! Dancin’!
by Kirk Pynchon and Mike Beyer
directed by
Sarah Rose Graber
Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston (map)
through April 24th (more info)
reviewed by Keith Ecker 

In 1986, the same year that the Factory Theater’s new play Hey! Dancin’! takes place, I was 5 years old. But just because I was barely old enough to walk doesn’t mean I didn’t know how to dance. I fondly remember shaking it to Prince’s “Batdance” and jiving to the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance.” Yes, my memory is drenched with visions of DayGlo, high tops and sunglasses at night. The Chicago theatre scene seems to share the same penchant for the Reagan era, churning out no less than three 1980s-themed productions in the last month.

hey-dancin3 But whereas the other two plays—both stage versions of The Breakfast Club (here and here) —are adaptations of a popular movie, Hey! Dancin’! is wholly original. And although leading an audience into unknown territory comes with great risk, the entire cast and crew of Hey! Dancin’! executes the wonderfully written piece close to perfection. The end result is a stunningly entertaining play that evokes genuine laughs while offering insight into our modern perceptions of celebrity.

The play is about a fictitious popular cable access Chicago TV show called “Hey! Dancin’!” Think of it as a poor man’s American Bandstand but with much bigger hair and a much smaller audience. The protagonist, Halle (Melissa Nedell), and her sexually blossoming friend Trisha (Catherine Dughi), are obsessed with the show. The two teenagers squeal when their favorite cast members appear on screen, whom they know on a first-name basis.

“Hey! Dancin’!” is about to wrap up its TV season and the girls decide they desperately need to appear on air. Halle has an urge to meet teenage heartthrob Kenny Kapowski (Jacob A. Ware), who goes by the moniker K.K. Trisha has a much less innocent crush on the show’s older host Randy (Anthony Tournis), whose fashion sense is inspired by Miami Vice.

Meanwhile, the cable access network’s station manager Dennis Blackburn (Noah Simon) is getting phone calls from angry parents that the dance music on “Hey! Dancin’!” is upsettingly too “black.” Instead, he is being urged to play the top white hits of the day, Bon Jovi being the prime example. Randy is on the side of the kids and tries to put his foot down on changing the show’s format.

There is yet another plot line at work, one involving the aforementioned heartthrob K.K. and his on-air/off-air girlfriend Tanya Lacy (Aileen May). Tanya is a demanding diva who fancies herself as the star of “Hey! Dancin’!” She concocts a staged lover’s quarrel for the final show of the season, but her tyrannical attitude is a turnoff to K.K., who may just be looking elsewhere for love—or at least a little dry humping in the supply closet.

Hey! Dancin’! isn’t just a hair-brained ‘80s-inspired comedy. It’s also an effective satire on people’s perceptions of celebrity today. K.K. and his girlfriend Tanya see themselves as the center of the universe because they are on TV.—cable access—but TV nonetheless. Halle and Trisha give this notion weight since they are star-obsessed with these no-name nudniks. Yet as Halle gets to know the real K.K., who admittedly dreams of being famous without actually ever wanting to hone any real talent, the image of these backwoods celebrities begins to crumble.

hey-dancin2 hey-dancin3

Before seeing the play, I was afraid it would suffer from a few obvious pitfalls. First, the concept of a kid’s dance show where the music is “too black” closely parallels the plot of Hairspray. Fortunately, the writers, Kirk Pynchon and Mike Beyer, knew not to make this a central focus. Instead, the show’s possible demise hangs in the background, allowing the characters and their drama to take center stage.

In addition, a show set in 1986 could easily have been overburdened with cliché references. And although the play definitely capitalizes on ‘80s nostalgia, it refrains from being a staged version of VH1’s “I Love the ‘80s.”

The acting is brilliant. The comedic timing of most of the players is impeccable. I’ve seen countless improv, sketch and stand-up shows, and this rivals the best of them. Simon as the recovering alcoholic station manager is a scene-stealer with his Muppet-like voice and general awkwardness.

The show is an hour and 20 minutes long with no intermission, but you won’t be squirming in your seat thanks to Sarah Rose Graber’s directing. She makes sure the play moves along at a fast pace, only slowing down for scenes that demand extra attention, such as the aforementioned supply closet tryst.

Hate them or love them, the 80’s happened. And although that decade continues to be a pox on contemporary society (I’m looking at you MTV), the fact that we now have Hey! Dancin’! almost makes it all worth it.

Rating: ★★★½

Hey! Dancin’! continues through April 24th, performance on Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm ($20.00), and Sundays 7pm ($15.00). All performances at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave.

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Review: Redtwist Theatre’s “Waiting for Godot”

The Four Everymen of the Apocalypse

VLADIMIR: We lost our rights?
POZZO: We got rid of them.

l-r: Bob Wilson (Estragon), Noah Simon (Pozzo), Andrew Jessop (Lucky), Mike Nowak (Vladimir)

What can any critic say about a nearly perfect production? It is practically complete; it hardly needs anything from another source. Redtwist Theatre, guest director Jim McDermott, and its cast have achieved a faithful, yet visionary rendering of Samuel Beckett’s modern classic, Waiting for Godot. What flaws exist, are so minor as to be trivial and, indeed, may simply boil down to different interpretations. Far outweighing any trifling objections, this production comes off as such a seamless whole, that one identifies with every character presented, realizing Beckett’s complete commentary on the human condition.

Noah Simon (Pozzo), Bob Wilson (Estragon), Andrew Jessop (Lucky) This Waiting for Godot looks backward as well as forward. Beckett’s greatest play is, without a doubt, informed by his desperate experiences in Europe during World War II. He ran from the Nazis, aided the Resistance, hid underground—enduring starvation, depression, suicidal thoughts, and the endless boredom and anxiety of waiting for salvation, from allies–from anyone. The barren landscape of the play, with its one tree, recalls the War’s environmental devastation. But that landscape also lies somewhere in our future, making Didi and Gogo, Pozzo and Lucky, four Everymen wandering in the desolate wilderness we are engendering right now.

Mike Nowak plays Vladimir with a light, soft touch. He does not go for every laugh possible from his character. Opportunity for clownishness is foregone for a realistic portrayal of a man suffering from all sorts of deprivation, except total loss of memory. This production heightens Didi’s ordeal as a man who remembers in the vacuum of all the other characters around him. Vladimir is the most alone because he has almost no one to witness to his experience. The toll of it4DidiGogoWeb builds unbearably. Neither Novak, nor McDermott’s direction, do anything to relieve the audience of that.

Even with levity provided by Gogo (Bob Wilson), one is impressed by how much Wilson’s gravelly voice and deliberate delivery lend his character gravitas. Estragon comes across more than ever as a Wise Fool. Is it stupidity that accounts for his moment-by-moment involvement in every pain, every bored agony, every miniscule pleasure, or a strange Zen-like acceptance that this moment truly is all there is or all that is left?

Noah Simon’s Pozzo is surprisingly human, for all the awful things he says. His cruelty toward Lucky is appalling; his fatuitous display of culture and learning, hilariously pretentious. His overall self-absorption, whether in his grief over Lucky’s  degradation or his recovery from that grief, is all too recognizable. This makes Pozzo 2TrioWeb less of a monster and more a man who truly knows not what he does. Which is monstrous—and human.

Andrew Jessop’s portrayal of Lucky lacks nothing in technique. What goes missing is simply some depth of experience that will obviously develop in an intensely focused actor very well on his way. Also, a young actor in the role of Lucky suggests the devouring of the young in a way that an older actor in the same role would not. Youth under a shock of white hair also lends his Lucky an otherworldly presence, although it is otherworldliness constrained, oppressed, and capitulating to oppression. This begs the question whether some true genius has been wiped out in its youthful promise. We cannot know what Lucky was or what he has lost. It becomes the question that haunts this performance.

Mike Nowak (Vladimir), Bob Wilson (Estragon) I could throw superlatives at this production all day long. But why bother? Just go see it. Redtwist Theatre has fulfilled its mission to produce great drama in a little black box theater space. For a couple of hours during this play, that little black box contains the whole world.

Rating: ««««


Redtwist Theatre production presents Beckett’s classic play. Featuring Mike Nowak (Vladimir), Bob Wilson (Estragon), Noah Simon (Pozzo), Andrew Jessop (Lucky), Adam Shalzi (Boy). Video includes Jimmy McDermott and Michael Colucci.