REVIEW: The Piano Teacher (Next Theatre)

   
   

A heartfelt lesson on facing the music

 

Next_Piano_Teacher_1 (2)

   
Next Theatre presents
 
The Piano Teacher
 
Written by Julie Cho
Directed by Lisa Portes
at Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston (map)
through Dec. 5  |  tickets: $30-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

“What’s so wonderful about honesty? Mama said, ‘don’t be 100% honest.’” A retired widow shares her cookies and recollections. Next Theatre presents the Midwest premiere of The Piano Teacher. Mrs. K self-identifies as being effortlessly good at many small things. Musically inclined but not quite the concert pianist, Mrs. K starts out as a piano tuner. Later, she teaches piano from her home. Over the course of thirty years, she instructs hundreds of children. Out of loneliness, Mrs. K starts calling up her former pupils to reminisce. The reconnection jars memories that she forgot she had wanted to forget. While she was practicing scales in the living room, Mr. K was providing life lessons in the kitchen. The musical appreciation class was overshadowed by Genocide 101. The K homeschooling did have a profound impact on its students. It just wasn’t the recital variety. The Piano Teacher dramatizes the long lasting effects of being traumatized as a child.

Next_Piano_Teacher_2“My husband always said I expected too much… people are just being who they are.” Mary Ann Thebus (Mrs. K) hits all the right notes as the piano teacher. Under the direction of Lisa Portes, Thebus delivers Julia Cho’s monologues with all the familiar charm of the grandmother-next-door. Thebus is outstanding as she directly addresses the audience in the narration of her story, engaging with humorous reflections on the simple pleasures of cookies and “Dances with the Stars” enjoyed over a cup of tea. Shaking her head in amusement and continually nibbling on cookies, we see the authenticity of Thebus as a sweet old lady trying to piece together her life. This visual becomes haunting as Mrs. K is confronted with the past. Manny Buckley (Michael) gives a darkly crazed but controlled performance as a prodigy child turned disturbed adult. Buckley’s forceful interaction makes for a heart-wrenching contrast to Thebus’ fearful denial. Buckley’s wild eyes are especially threatening even when he speaks with eloquent normalcy. Representing another side to the same story, Sadieh Rifai (Mary) brings an empathetic balance as a grateful student that is worried about her favorite teacher.

The past meets present on a set, designed by Keith Pitts, that captures perfectly a piano teacher’s living room complete with musical artwork. The visual adds to the storytelling with a layer of cozy familiarity. It’s this preconception that makes the revelations more stimulating. Playwright Julia Cho introduces character analogies that are beautifully sad ‘He looked thirsty and he looked at me like I was rain.’ The narrations are delivered in fragment ramblings by a nice old lady, but when the puzzle pieces are placed together, it’s not the picture perfect image of a piano teacher’s home. Cho tells a thought-provoking tale of children’s loss of innocence. Combined with the homey atmosphere and the talented cast, The Piano Teacher is a genuine lesson in facing the music.

SPOILER ALERT: The front row gets cookies. Plan accordingly.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Next_Piano_Teacher_3 (2)

The Piano Teacher runs Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Saturdays (20th, 27th, 4th) at 4pm, and Sundays at 2pm – thru December 5th

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission.

  
  

Continue reading

REVIEW: 26 Miles (Teatro Vista and Rivendell Ensemble)

‘26 Miles’ is quite the trip!

 

26Miles6214

   
Teatro Vista and Rivendell Theatre Ensemble present
   
26 Miles
   
Written by Quiara Alegria Hudes
Directed by Tara Mallen
at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map)
through November 21  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

The distance between Philadelphia and Wyoming is 1,835 miles. The distance between a mother and daughter is further away and closer than that. Teatro Vista and Rivendell Theatre Ensemble present the Midwest premiere of 26 Miles by Tony-Award winning playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes. Quirky teenager Olivia runs away from her dad’s house. She is assisted in the escape by her mother. After throwing up fifteen times, Olivia is desperate for someone to care. She calls her biological mother, Beatriz, who had given up custody and visitation rights eight years earlier. In fact, 26Miles6282according to Olivia’s journal log, Beatriz hasn’t spoken to her daughter in five months. A spontaneous road trip to see buffalo becomes a journey of self-realization for mother and daughter. With a jamming 80’s soundtrack, 26 Miles is a trip of discovery that takes some surprising turns.

Playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes doesn’t rush to the destination. Hudes allows the characters to continue to identify themselves right up until the show comes to a complete stop. The mother-daughter duo drives the experience perfectly. Ashley Neal (Olivia) is hilarious as the creative philosophical teenager. She muses her journal thoughts out loud with “note: do I believe in…” She publishes a magazine. Neal is that high school geek that is too smart to fit in. Her animated face adds another layer of humor to her stellar performance. Sandra Marquez (Beatriz) is the feisty Cuban mother. Marquez rages with impulsiveness. Unlike Neal’s character, Marquez is not easily recognizable. As the M.I.A. mom, Marquez has to work extra hard to win the audience over. Marquez commits for the long haul! She faces the situation with wise resignation of ‘it’s not good. It’s not bad. It’s like erosion. It just is.’ Keith Kupferer (Aaron) and Edward Torres (Manuel) are the guys that cause the gals to run. They take a back seat to the mother-daughter bonding. Although their supporting roles are important, it’s their amusing scene transition antics that are most memorable.

 

26Miles6284 26Miles6295

Director Tara Mallen has mapped the journey with purposeful appeal. Mallen doesn’t settle with poignant performances by a talented cast. She adds in paper flying, music blaring and Blues Brothers’ scene transitions. The extras provide the scenic route on what could be a long road trip. The scenery itself also supplies a subtle layer of storytelling. The set, designed by Regina Garcia, has a slanted floor with suspended stairs that don’t quite connect. The backdrop is a snippet of Olivia’s journal with pictures and words. It’s a trip! Teatro Vista and Rivendell travel well together; all the parts work together for high performance. It’s the truly collaborative effort that catapults 26 Miles to go the distance.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
    
    

26 Miles plays every Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm through November 21st.  Running time is 90-minutes with no intermission.

26Miles6155

   
   

Continue reading

Review: GL 2010 – Not Your Generic Latina (Teatro Luna)

Teatro Luna – Anything but generic!

  photo by Johnny Knight

   
Teatro Luna presents
      
GL 2010 – Not Your Generic Latina
  
Developed & Directed by Miranda Gonzalez
at
Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map)
through July 11  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info 

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

Teatro Luna is a great theatre company. Billing themselves as "Chicago’s all Latina theatre company," Teatro Luna brings Latina actresses, writers and directors together to collaboratively compose all original material. Their new show, GL 2010, is styled as a review, made up of a series of vignettes, songs, and movement pieces. GL stands photo by Johnny Knight for Generic Latina, and shares a name with Teatro Luna’s first production. Although the material is all new, it is generated by the same idea as the original: what does the phrase "Generic Latina" mean?

As the audience enters, they are met with a particularly noticeable pre-show soundtrack, a hodgepodge of electronica music and samples from what sounds like a particularly dark telenovela. The walls of the set are absolutely covered with Spanish-language posters for movies, bands and night clubs; as well as a graffiti-style stencils of Mexican wrestling masks, ice cream trucks and Virgin Marys. The show starts with a bang, when a red jump suited audience member flies out of her seat and plows onto the stage to perform a high energy rap about her Latina experience, denying that there is anything generic about her at all. This opening number is representative of Teatro Luna at its very best: controlled, focused energy exploding with the joy of performance. After this first opening number, a gang of three mothers of adult children take the stage, a vignette that will be replicated twice during the show. The three women come from different Spanish speaking countries and discuss their cultural differences, and their shared worries about their children. Teatro Luna always takes its time to explore as many angles of Latina life as possible. The three mothers are vessels through which the culture is examined externally: the writer/performers themselves look at a part of their culture that they are much to young to experience and explore it like curious children, eager to show their findings.

GL 2010_010 GL 2010_006
GL 2010_008 GL 2010_005 GL 2010_001

GL 2010 is more reserved than the company’s previous shows. With a cast that welcomes a few new writer/performers, GL 2010 has the intellectual weight one expects from a Luna show, but comes off as emotionally guarded. Scenes are generated from autobiographical stories, which has given a raw, emotional edge to past shows like Lunaticas. It makes sense that GL 2010 would become more  intellectual than emotional: the premise of the show is to investigate what a Generic GL 2010_007Latina means, and to blow up that stereotype – and external struggle rather than an internal one.

There are some emotional highlights in GL 2010, however. Lauren Villegas‘ courtroom monologue is emotionally stirring and captivating, and the rap performances that act as a Greek Chorus in this show manage to both contain lots of thought-provoking information and have a warm emotional side. Teatro Luna is at its best during large, vibrant group scenes although some of the larger numbers in GL 2010 aren’t quite fully realized. An ode to the nightmarish act of female body waxing has the potential to be a major show stopper, but its viewpoint is too weak to be very ratable.

The women of Teatro Luna are a powerful force, and the work they put into their collaborative shows is evident in their product. GL 2010 isn’t a perfect show, but Teatro Luna is one of the coolest theater companies out there.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
 
 

Continue reading