Review – “Graceland” at Profiles Theatre

The highly-recommended "Graceland", now playing at Profiles Theatre

Graceland
By Ellen Fairey
Now extended through August 16th
Profiles Theatre

Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Four lonely lives in the northside of Chicago intersect in Ellen Fairey’s creative story Graceland. The buzzing of fighter jets flying high above in the air show and the non-stop mention of the characters displeasure with the new smoking ban reminds us that the story takes place here at home. Sara (Brenda Barrie) and Sam (Eric Burgher) are struggling to understand their father’s recent suicide, and to cope with their own isolated lives. Frequently taking place at Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery, the story touches on the loneliness that that one can feel even while surrounded by people in a large populated city.

HORIZONTALSara is a single middle-class woman with obvious interweaving personal problems, and layers of complicated worries that are untold to the audience. In the opening scene Brenda expresses a sense of anxiety that is within Sara. She speaks and scutters around as if she has so many thoughts running through her head that she is unable to articulate them all. Sara is bothered by her brother’s sense of indifference and she jumps from one topic to another trying to get an emotional reaction from her brother Sam. 

On the exterior Sam is an emotionally cool, even-keeled young adult who does not over-react to the highs and lows in life. He hides his pain with hits from his bowl and tries to act as the rational one in their time of crisis. Sam is also dealing with the loneliness caused by his father before he died, when his father started sleeping with his ex girlfriend Anna (Somer Benson.) Partially to drown their sorrows with a beer and in part to find out more information on their father, the two leave and head to a local northside dive bar that their Dad frequented often.

"Graceland", now being performed at Profiles Theatre Sara’s drunken night at the bar does nothing but worsen her complicated situation. She ends up going back for a night cap with a smooth talking divorced patron from the bar with the motive of finding out more information on her father, but her desire for companionship leads to more. Waking up from a one-night stand with Joe (Darell W. Cox) and wearing nothing but his Chicago Bulls warm-up shirt, she is surprised to run into a familiar boy she met at the cemetery.

Joe’s son Miles (Jackson Challinor) is an only child from a broken home. His loneliness is expressed in his openness with strangers and desire for deeper conversation. Even with Sara’s obvious discomfort, Miles is not shy in talking about his father’s sex life with her or his father’s previous ladies. He his open with his own flirtations and mature in his comfort with older woman, and this leads to trouble.

As the four lives collide, we see the pain of loneliness and the regretful paths that it can cause people to choose. We also see the significance of random encounters, and the importance of the brief connections we make with each other.

Ellen Fairey’s comedic drama entangles a variety of complications within the four characters (and a surprising fifth near the end) to depict the loneliness the can occur even while surrounded by others in a crowded city. Her story moves with constant new developments that keep the personal turmoil within the characters building. Her choice of Chicago’s northside as the setting for her play, makes it that much more enjoyable for Profiles Theatre’s hometown audience.

Matthew Miller direction of Graceland keeps the action simple, and allows the dialogue and story to move the plot along. Mikhail Fiksel must have really enjoyed his role in the play creating the fantastic sound effects of fighter jets screaming overhead. William Anderson’s choice in the smaller details, like the Chicago Cubs Pennants hanging in Joe’s apartment and the floor made to look like grass with slender sidewalks, create a simple yet realistic setting that allows the audience to imagine the scene that is surrounding the characters throughout the different acts.

I wonder about the motive of the consistent rants against the smoking-ban. The cast was allowed to smoke in the last play (Great Falls by Lee Blessing) that I attended at Profiles Theatre, and that was after the smoking-ban took effect, what changed? Were the negative comments regarding the smoking ban a statement by Profiles Theatre due to being forbidden to smoke within their own theatre, or was it part of the script to help identify with the attitude of many middle-class young adults? Something leads me to think this was a personal statement by Profiles Theatre. One that disagrees with the effects the smoking ban has on the realism of performing certain acts.

Overall all of the actresses and actors did a wonderful job of creating distinct individuals. Brenda Barrie gives Sara depth beyond her verbal dialogue. In the beginning of the performance the conversations between each actress/actor felt real and unscripted, although as the play ran on some of the lines came off overly practiced and without sincere emotion behind their words. With the exception of Erick Burgher, who from start to finish stood out with his focus and complete transformation in to his character (Sam.)

Due to popular demand Graceland has now been extended through August 16th, and starting July 11th there will be an additional Saturday Matinee at 5:00pm. This is a great opportunity to see a Chicago-based play that will make you laugh and keep you talking about the events that take place in the play long after you leave the theatre.

Rating: «««

Where: Profiles Theatre
When: through: August 16th
(Thurs, Fri, Sat at 8 pm/Sun 7 pm, Saturday Matinees at 5 pm on July 11, 18, 25, August 1, 8, 15)
Tickets: Buy online at www.profilestheatre.org or call (773) 549-1815

For complete actor bios, click on “Read more”

Continue reading

Allison Torem – a theatre star in the making?

UPDATE:  Excerpts from Hedy Weiss’s new article regarding Ms. Torem has been added at the bottom of this post.

I am always incredibly impressed by young theatrical talent that can hold their own among a group of professional actors.  Often these young prodigies easily steal the Torem_Cox_GreatFalls show.  Past examples include Edward Heffernan in American Theatre Company‘s The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs, by William Inge, as well as Lillian Almaguer in Steppenwolf’s controversial production of The Pain and the Itch, by Bruce Norris.

It looks like we have another one of those Chicago prodigies, per Hedy Weiss‘s glowing review of Profiles Theatre‘s Great Falls, by Lee Blessing – that being Allison Torem.

Says Weiss:

One crucial reason to catch the Profiles Theatre production of Lee Blessing’s two-character play “Great Falls” is to witness the astonishing performance by Allison Torem.  An actress of dazzling skill, fierce emotional honesty and breath-taking sophistication, she also just happens to be a senior at the Whitney Young Magnet High School.     (emphasis mine)

Ms. Weiss goes on to say that Torem “triggers memories of the young Jodie Foster“.  Wow.

Kudos to Ms.Torem, and to Profiles for presenting such an exemplary production.

Great Falls continues through March 1st. Starring Darrell W. Cox and Allison Torem, direction by Joe Jahraus, Chelsea Meyers (set design), and Kevin O’Donnell (sound design).

Read the entire review here.  Other reviews: Trib, ChicagoCritic,

Great Falls, by Lee Blessing

UPDATE: Chicago Sun-Times’ Hedy Weiss has also written a post regarding Allison Torem on her blog.  A few quotes:

She didn’t see much theater as a child, but when she broke a finger in a bowling accident at age 9, she stopped taking karate and violin lessons and enrolled in classes at Prologue Children’s Theatre. In eighth grade she took classes at the Second City, but confesses: “I was seriously insecure. It would be a whole lot more fun for me now.” She also tried her hand at musicals as part of the youth-oriented Entertainment Project.

At first I was taken aback when reading this:

Torem, a slight girl with an interesting face that can shift between beauty and something far more challenging, admits to being stunned by her glowing reviews.

But then I realized that, for the stage, an actor’s ability to manipulate their expressions is an a coveted talent.  Read the entire article here.

Once again – bravo!