REVIEW: Three Sisters (Piven Theatre Workshop)

   
   

Chekhov’s naturalist classic enjoys lively revival at Piven

 

Nofs-Snyder, Underwood, Batista - H

   
Piven Theatre Workshop presents
 
Three Sisters
   
Written by Anton Chekhov 
Adapted by
Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Joyce Piven
at
Noyes Cultural Center, Evanston (map)
thru November 21  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

For sisters Olga (Joanne Underwood), Masha (Saren Nofs-Snyder), and Irina (Ravi Batista), the road to Moscow is long and bumpy in Piven Theatre’s finely acted, elegantly directed production of Chekhov’s naturalist classic Three Sisters. Tethered to their provincial town by occupation, spouse, and status, they struggle to find the meaning in their tiresome existence, dreaming of a utopian Moscow that is just out of reach. As their hopes fall apart around them, they learn that the only people they can trust are each other, and the three actresses develop the relationship between the Smith, Barnes, Nofs-Snyder - Vwomen beautifully. Under the guidance of director Joyce Piven, the relationships between the sisters and the men around them come to life, creating believable drama that is thick with emotion.

For Olga and Irina, the oldest and youngest, returning to Moscow is not near the fantasy it is for their middle sister Masha, in a loveless marriage with tenuous schoolteacher Kulygin (Brett T. Barnes), and Nofs-Snyder’s melancholic portrayal of Masha captures the sense of helplessness that defines the character. When the handsome Lieutenant Colonel Vershinin (Daniel Smith) enters Masha’s life, she is given a reason to live, and their romance smolders despite Smith’s distracting dialect. The first kiss between the two is one of the highlights of the production, a wonderfully awkward moment filled with hesitation that erupts into lust as the creaking of the wooden sofa breaks through their sensual silence.

Masha is the heart, Irina the soul, and Olga the mind of the play, allowing these core elements to dictate the direction of their lives. Meanwhile, their brother Andrei’s (Dave Belden) wife Natasha (Amanda Hartley) lacks all three, and she sucks them from her husband as the story progresses. A petulant, anxious ice queen with a superiority complex and unhealthy levels of self-righteousness, Natasha is played with villainous gusto by Hartley, who fearlessly depicts the character’s power trip once she marries Andrei. Her treatment of house servant Anfisa (Kathleen Ruhl, mother of adapter Sarah) is appalling, and creates great conflict with Olga, who cherishes Anfisa like a member of the family.

Ruhl, Batista - HDirector Joyce Piven uses the space beautifully, crafting spatial relationships to build tension between characters that explode when they finally come together. Solyony (Jay Reed), the play’s most combustible character, hates everything and never backs down from an argument, his intense misery venturing into comedic territory in its exaggeration. His love for Irina, a love shared by Baron Tuzenbach (Andy Hager), is unreturned by the youngest sister, who is more concerned with discovering fulfilling work than a man. Batista gives an emotionally resonant performance, especially as Irina begins to understand the kind of work available to her in town, but there’s a maturity in her voice and carriage that takes away from the character’s youthful energy. There is an early moment when Vershinin describes the sisters’ old home in Moscow and the older two’s faces become teary-eyed at the memory while Irina struggle to recapture the image, likely too young to truly remember. It’s a small moment, but it helps solidify her position in the trinity.

It’s a good time to be a Chekhov fan in Chicago. Goodman’s The Seagull (our review ★★★★) as the theatrical theory and situational humor, while Three Sisters eloquently showcases Chekhov’s philosophical genius and occasionally nihilist world view. As the lights go down on the three sisters standing united against the world, it’s like they are watching Moscow burn before their very eyes. The power of these three women together is the play’s beauty, the reality of their circumstance its tragedy.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Smith, Nofs-Snyder - H

Cast:

Ravi Batista* (Irina)
Saren Nofs-Snyder (Masha)
Joanne Underwood (Olga)
Brent T. Barnes (Kulygin)
Dave Belden (Andrei)
Marcus Davis (Fedotik)
Kevin D’Ambrosio (Ferapont)
John Fenner Mays (Chebutykin)
Andy Hager (Tuzenbach)
Amanda Hartley (Natasha)
Jacob Murphy (Rode)
Jay Reed (Solyony)
Kathleen Ruhl (Anfisa)
Dan Smith (Vershinin)
Susan Applebaum (Understudy – Anfisa)

 

Production Staff:

Producer: Jodi Gottberg
Production Stage Manager: Wendy Woodward*
Scenic Design: Aaron Menninga
Technical Director: Bernard Chin
Lighting Design: Andrew Iverson & Alex Bradford Ruhlin
Costume Design: Bill Morey
Composition & Sound Design: Collin Warren
Sound Engineer: Alex Bradford Ruhlin
Properties Design: Jesse Gaffney
Asst. Director & Dramaturg: Stephen Fedo
Asst. Stage Manager: Chad Duda
Asst. to the Director: Skye Robinson Hillis
Costume Assistant: Melissa Ng
Production Intern: Nathaniel Williams

* Member, Actors Equity Association

Nofs-Snyder, Batista, Underwood - H

Review: LATE: A Cowboy Song (Piven Theatre Workshop)

Prairie Home Pretension

 

Grimm and Noonan H II

 
Piven Theatre Workshop presents
   
LATE: A Cowboy Song
  
Written by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by
Jessica Thebus
at
Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston (map)
through August 29   |  tickets: $25  |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

After seeing LATE: A Cowboy Song, an early Sarah Ruhl piece put up by the Piven Theatre Workshop, I had to clarify the job of a theatre critic for myself. Do I factor in the context of a play in reference to a playwright’s oeuvre? Or do I judge a production solely based on what I see at that time and in that room?

Because as significant as Ruhl is to the stage (her list of recognitions and awards would make an Eagle Scout envious), I have never seen one of her plays. I have never seen In the Next Room (the vibrator play) or The Clean House or Dead Man’s Cell Phone (which premiered at Steppenwolf in 2008 – our review ★★★).  So it’s impossible for me to look at LATE through the lens of a Ruhl expert, appreciating the piece as an early, unpolished gem from a writer who would later consistently churn out financially-successful diamonds.

But I realized it is okay if I have no context because the enjoyment of a particular production shouldn’t be contingent upon something outside the theater. All that is needed to have a good experience should be there, contained within that small dark room. After all, at its core, drama is the art of storytelling, and thus the quality of a play depends on its coherency and its content.

That being said, LATE lacks both coherency and content. It is an understated and pretentious excursion that introduces us to unlikable, unrelatable characters who occupy a world that – even when taken metaphorically – makes no sense. Watching it, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “This is exactly why people don’t go see plays.”

The play concerns Mary (Polly Noonan, who also was the lead in Steppenwolf’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone), a fragile young woman who is in love with her childhood sweetheart Crick (Lawrence Grimm). Crick may be well meaning, but that doesn’t excuse him from being a selfish deadbeat who has no job and asks Mary to lend him $500.

One day, Mary runs into an old friend named Red (Kelli Simpkins), a butch cowgirl who occasionally sings plot-relevant songs stage right. When Mary and Crick wed, Mary escapes to Red frequently to share bowls of clear soup, ride horses and learn the way of the cowboy.

Soon, Mary becomes pregnant. She and Crick cannot agree on a name. He lobbies for Jill. She lobbies for Blue. They never agree, and so even after the baby is born, each uses the name of his or her own choosing. This may seem strange, but then again, the baby is strange. It is born intersexual, which means both sexes are represented at birth though the doctor declares the baby a girl.

There is more inter-relationship turmoil to be had, more woeful country songs to be sung and more old-fashioned cowboy wisdom to be dispensed. But, unfortunately, it never gels together.

Simpkins and Noonan H II

Ruhl often is unable to disguise her own voice as dialogue. Mary and Crick are simple, so simple that they may have been kicked in the head by a horse. But occasionally they meditate on things with irritating pretension. It’s false to the characters, and it’s a disconnect for the audience. It is what I call “island dialogue” because it sits out by itself, a mass of words separate from the rest of the play.

In addition, the extent of the play’s subtlety makes it confusing. I’m not sure what I was supposed to walk away thinking after seeing a love triangle of some sort, whether physical, emotional or metaphysical. Why two names for the baby? Why is Crick so fixated on art? I’m not asking to be spoon-fed answers. I’m just dubious that there are answers.

LATE represents the reunion of Noonan, director Jessica Thebus and Ruhl. Noonan plays Mary with extreme fragility and vulnerability, as if she could shatter at any moment. But she’s also emotionally schizophrenic, prone to creepy mood swings, which may be intentional but, at the same time, off-putting.

Simpkins’ portrayal of Red is the best part of the play. She’s the only character that makes any sense in the midst of the whirlwind of Mary and Crick’s relationship. For the audience, she is the bedrock that we can anchor ourselves to so as not to get swept away by this agonizing script.

Ruhl may be an amazing playwright. I have no doubt about that. But this is not one of her superlative plays. I suppose, if you are a fan and want to see her early work, you may enjoy this on a exploratory level. But if you’re just looking for a good show, you’ll feel like you squandered 90 minutes.

  
      
Rating: ★★
   
   

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Show closings – last chance to catch ‘em!

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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

REVIEW: Number of People (Piven Theatre Workshop)

Beck is #1 in this one man show

number 

Piven Theatre Workshop presents:

 

Number of People

Written and directed by Emilie Beck
At Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., Evanston
Thru April 11th (more info)

 

By Katy Walsh

8, 11, 6, Leo Gold is a numbers guy. His wife is an eight. His daughter is eleven. And his concentration camp bunkmate is a six. Piven Theatre Workshop presents Number of People, a Holocaust survivor’s recollection of moments of his life. Leo Gold lived through the attempted annihilation of the Jewish people. Now, he is enduring the death of his wife and the onset of Alzheimer’s. In the past, a fixation on numbers has given him sequential order. From the muddled recesses of his mind, numerical disarray leads to total recall. Humans exterminating a segment of the population is unimaginable, undeniable, and unforgivable. How is it survivable? As a statistician, Leo counts on numbers, ‘a 1 is always a 1.’ Number of People is an ordinary man’s jumbled memoirs of his extraordinary life story.

Bernard Beck plays Leo Gold as an average Joe. He is a grumpy old guy waiting on his daughter to pick him up. Mr. Beck is understated and un-heroic in his portrayal of Leo Gold, maintaining that Leo Gold as a ‘regular corny joke telling’ nobody. It’s this established foundation that springboards to poignant discourse as Leo’s slipping self-containment is pried open. He relives amazingly horrific episodes of inhumanity.  There is a true sense from Mr. Beck’s performance that these stories are only being recounted because of the Alzheimer’s. Leo Gold is no longer able to focus on the numbers for a reality escape. His infliction forces nightmarish reminiscence; he’s particularly unforgettable in a moving scene with rainwater and numbers on a painting.

Emilie Beck is the tri-fecta of success as the playwright, director and daughter of Mr. Beck. As the playwright, she has brilliantly pieced together stories to chronicle Leo Gold’s life. She highlights his ordinary and sometimes disconnected relationship with his wife. Ms. Beck showcases Leo’s confusion and detachment with descriptive passages. Whether it is a matter-of-fact description of a hundred hanged Jews or delightful musings over drinking beer at lunchtime, she gives Leo’s imagery equal importance. It is powerful glimpses of one man’s startling existence.

Number of People uses a minimal set with a surprising utilization of books. There is a room behind a room which works to establish Leo’s confused state of mind. Although music transitions his stories back to his number fascination, the song choices and cues seem simplistic and forced. It’s the only integer that doesn’t quite add up in a tightly constructed ninety minute oration of the unexpected depth of experience suppressed behind a man’s numerical defense mechanism.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Running time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

 

noyes

Noyes Cultural Arts Center

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Chicago theater openings/closings this week

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show openings

 

1985 The Factory Theater 

All the Fame of Lofty Deeds The House Theatre of Chicago 

Becoming Ingrid Rubicon Theatre Project

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

Cooperstown Theatre Seven of Chicago

The David Bowie Hepzikat Funky Velvet Flarney Solstice Spectacular Live!…From Space (David Bowie’s 1977 Christmas Special Network Edit) New Millenium Theatre

Democracy Eclipse Theatre

G.I.F.T. Collaboraction Theatre

Little Women Circle Theatre

Macbeth Dominican University Performing Arts Center

MassNorthwestern University 

Plaid Tidings Noble Fool Theatricals

Spanish Strings McAninch Arts Center

Stars in the Morning Sky UIC Theatre

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant A Red Orchid Theatre

 

CHICAGO_HOLIDAYS

show closings

 

As You Like It Loyola University

The Black Duckling Dream Theatre 

Book of Days EverGreen Theatre Ensemble 

C’est La Vie Light Opera Works 

Dinner for Six Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Fantasticks Porchlight Music Theatre 

Fedra: Queen of Haiti Lookingglass Theatre 

Graceland Profiles Theatre

The Last Unicorn Promethean Theatre

The Mercy Seat Profiles Theatre

Pump Boys and Dinettes Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Spoon River Anthology Saint Sebastian Players

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Treasure Island Lifeline Theatre

Two by Pinter Piven Theatre Workshop

Review: Piven Theatre’s “Two by Pinter: The Lover and The Collection”

Piven needs to push the envelope

 Grimm & Black

 

Piven Theatre Workshop presents:

Two by Pinter: “The Lover and “The Collection

by Harold Pinter
directed by Joyce Piven
thru November 15th (buy tickets) 

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Grimm & Black - V Two early works by Harold Pinter, The Lover (1962) and The Collection (1961) onstage now at Piven Theatre Workshop, probably shocked their audiences when they first premiered. Replete with BDSM and homoerotic undertones, they explore the games people play while maintaining or establishing control within a marriage or among multiple sexual relationships. Quite appropriately, you won’t find leather, whips, or chains in founder Joyce Piven’s interpretation of these little capsules of Pinter. But that doesn’t mean the dramatic stakes should be any lower for lack of accoutrement. There’s plenty of emotional sadomasochism to go around and charge the evening with peril.

Dana Black (Sarah) and Lawrence Grimm (Richard) in The Lover are certainly well paired as a married couple spicing up their relationship with their own version of extra-marital dalliances. Both are excellent in expressing an aloofness that masks the need for control in the dynamics of their sexual cat-and-mouse play.

Strangely, though, lack of chemistry plagues their efforts to depict characters with a driving need to play these games, for whatever reason. Since cool surface adherence to social pleasantry is as much a part of this couple’s game as anything else, it’s difficult to suggest just when lust and risk, danger and fear should emerge to take the foreground. But take place it must or the audience will sense the actors are playing it safe or that there are no stakes here worth playing for—either in physical or emotional safety for these characters. Black’s performance compellingly pulls the action toward the risk of intimacy, but that risk has to stand in stark contrast to the politically incorrect possibility of violence and subjugation.

Reed & Francisco - VThe Collection fares a little better since actors Jay Reed (James) and John Francisco (Bill) take more risks, especially in venturing toward the violent. Francisco’s Bill is charming, erotic, and shifty enough to take on any role he feels required of him in the moment; Reed plays James with just the right suggestion of privilege and pomposity that gets him into trouble later on. It’s in this second one-act that Grimm, as Harry, gets to pour on Pinter’s icy, savage language with a relish he seems denied as Richard in the first one-act. It’s a play with more teeth in it–but even then, the actors could push it a little farther.

There you have it–at the risk of sounding gratuitous, let there be more sex, more violence. These are middle class people with dark, dark dreams. I respect the need not to be over the top, but pulling punches also does grave disservice to Pinter’s works. Piven and cast must demonstrate that they are not afraid to go into the night.

Rating: ««½

 Reed & Francisco - H

 

Productions Personnel

Playwright: Harold Pinter
Director: Joyce Piven
Prod. Manager: Jodi Gottberg
Lighting Design: Seth Reinick
Sound Design: Collin Warren
Props Design: Linda Laake
Dialect Coach: Jodi Gottberg
Set Design: Aaron Menninga
Stage Manager: John Kearns
Cast: Dana Black
John Francisco
Jay Reed
Lawrence Grimm

Chicago theatre openings/closings this week

chicagoskyline-atnight2

show openings

Ah Wilderness! Loyola University Chicago Theatre 

Alice in Wonderland Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Anton in Show Business Theatre Building Chicago

Baroque and Beatles Chicago a cappella

The Berenstain Bears Northbrook Theatre

Cats Cadillac Palace Theatre

C’est La Vie Light Opera Works

Death of a Salesman Raven Theatre

Disturbed Oracle Productions

Dracula Oak Park Festival Theatre

The Dreamers Apollo Theatre

Fedra: Queen of Haiti Lookingglass Theatre

Lettice and Lovage Redtwist Theatre

Lucinda’s Bed Chicago Dramatists

Pericles O’Malley Theatre

Rhymes with Evil InFusion Theatre

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Writers’ Theatre

Scared Stiff Chemically Imbalanced Comedy

Slavic Strings McAninch Arts Center 

Two by Pinter Piven Theatre Workshop

 

chicago-river-from-vietnammemorial

show closings

1001 Merle Reskin Theatre

Creepy Hug: Dirt Nap Gorilla Tango Theatre 

The Darkest Pit Prop Thtr

It’s Good for You 2 Gorilla Tango Theatre

Moonlight and Magnolias Buffalo Theatre Ensemble

Pericles O’Malley Theater

Stoop Stories Goodman Theatre

Taking Steps UIC Theatre

The Thin Man City Lit Theater

Village of K_ Bruised Orange Theater