REVIEW: Dream of a Common Language (Prologue Theatre)

   
   

Must good-girl painters always finish last?

 

 

Clovis at the wall w Victor, Pola, and Marc (high def)

   
Prologue Theatre presents
    
Dream of a Common Language
     
Written by Heather McDonald
Directed by
Margo Gray
at
Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway (map)
through Nov 18  |  tickets: $16-$18   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Of what value are women’s gifts? What value are women’s talents, women’s work, or the creativity of women? These are the questions Heather McDonald’s play, Dream of a Common Language, focuses on. No amount of armchair theorizing about women’s critical place in cultural creation can erase the reality that women’s abilities, talents and artistic perspective often get placed at the low end of the hierarchy. Men’s creativity, like men’s work, is invariably classed above the creativity executed by women—and often because men are the judges of what is or is not art.

Clovis and the Train (high def)Director Margo Gray and Prologue Theatre struggle mightily against the restrictions of Oracle Theatre’s space and their own low-budget difficulties in order to carry off McDonald’s impressionistic language and scene structure. Unfortunately, serious lack of vision in doing more with less handicaps the execution of this play’s impressionist style. Especially in the first act, cumbersome, start-and-stop scene changes and awkward, unnecessary puppetry dooms this show to fits of embarrassing amateurism.

That’s really too bad, because Gray has collected a cast that capably teases out the delicate moods and emotional shifts that sculpt McDonald’s focus. Clovis (Carrie Hardin), a woman painter, suffocates under not having her painting taken seriously, as well as the stifling proscriptions of her new role as wife and mother in the mid-19th century. Victor (Michael John Krystosek), her husband, also a painter, is at a loss to understand just what is bothering her. Consumed with planning a dinner to organize an exhibition that will feature artists rejected by the establishment, he fails to see how leaving women artists out of the dinner, and out of the exhibition, disturbs his wife. Her long-time friend and fellow woman artist, Pola (Lara Janson), arrives by bicycle in time to lift Clovis’ spirits. Together with the housekeeper, Delores (Hayley L. Rice), the women stage a revolt. They hold a dinner of their own with food stolen from the men’s dinner.

Hardin is most expert in making the audience palpably feel Clovis’ pain. Shakiness and uncertainty plague Clovis’ attempts to re-establish herself, to find the core of who she is and not be swayed by the roles that have been scripted for her as a woman. We sense Clovis’ uneasiness of self and appreciate her struggle to define just what it is that bothers her. Alex Knell turns in an accurate and natural performance as her neglected son, pushed to the side because Clovis cannot accept her restrictive motherly role.

Clovis and Victor - Touch Me (high def) Clovis Poses Victor

Janson’s performance as Pola aptly contrasts her ruddy mental and physical health with Clovis’ shakiness. However, Janson’s constant good nature contradicts all indications that her character is not totally happy–a little more nuance could let the audience catch her frustration at being reduced to painting flowers, just like “all the good-girl painters.” The appearance of Marc (Les Rorick) kicks up the stakes, both because of the secret affair he’s had with Clovis and because Rorick captures a good, full-bodied 19th-century character within a few lines.

Other performers took more time to warm to their roles on opening night, but it’s difficult to discern whether that is their particular dilemma or the direction. Whatever the source, the cast finally congeals into a cohesive, lively and idyllic whole in the second act, sans scene changes and, mercifully, sans puppets. The restoration of Clovis’ self and her relationship with Victor delicately evokes real wonder and profound beauty.

If at all possible at this juncture, it would be wise for Gray to revise her direction for the first act. Flow from scene to scene is needed to preserve McDonald’s impressionist intent. Furthermore, shadow puppets and other forms of puppetry really should be saved for the budget and expertise to do them well. If the intent was to create a more dreamlike, childlike state, then McDonald’s language alone, as well as the energetic game playing of the women in the second act, connect us to the creative children in these characters. What other accoutrements are needed? Absolutely none.

 
   
Rating: ★★½   
   
   

Centaur in the Garden (high def)

Continue reading

Review: Prologue Theatre’s “Sex” by Mae West

Prologue Theatre’s “Sex” Only Puts Out a Little

 Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 2 (photo by Alix Klingenberg)

Prologue Theatre presents:

Sex

by Mae West
directed by Margo Gray
thru November 21st (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 5 (photo by Alix Klingenberg) I’ve long wanted to see Sex, the play that put Mae West in jail. Mae West was one of America’s great crossover artists, bringing more risqué influences from vaudeville and jazz to the so-called “legitimate” stage on Broadway. She appropriated elements from African-American artists and the drag balls of the Pansy Craze, lifting comic styling wholesale from female impersonators Burt Savoy and Julian Eltinge. For her part, West daringly imported queer culture into the mainstream with her plays The Drag and The Pleasure Man. But then Mae West was about all sex, not just the straight variety.

Prologue Theatre Company is obviously conscious of the historical value of these American theatrical and cultural developments, staging Sex at the turn-of-the-century Gunder Mansion, now serving as the North Lakeside Cultural Center. The play occurs en promenade, an element that both does and doesn’t work for the production. Transitioning the audience from room to room certainly emphasizes shifts in place from Montreal to Trinidad to Connecticut. However, the time it takes for the audience to make it into their seats from one room to the next also produces clumsy delays between scenes and the travel up and down stairs definitely limits accessibility.

What created scandal in West’s time seems tame in ours. Yet Jes Bedwinek, as the savvy working girl Margy Lamont, infuses her leading role with the right amount of suggestiveness. She borrows just enough of West’s timing and inflections without devolving into an utter Mae West caricature–successfully acknowledging her illustrious forebear while at the same time making the role her own. Anne Sheridan Smith molds her role as the philandering society matron Clara Stanton, to be the perfectly balanced foil to Bedwinek’s Margy—just as lusty, yet hemmed in by cultural refinement and conventional restraints. As the doomed prostitute Agnes, Rebecca L. Maudlin brings realism and sympathy to a role that could have been rendered as simply pathetic. It’s a woman’s play, after all; the things of greatest consequence happen to the women characters.

 

Prologue Theatre Co - Sex1 (photo by Alix Klingenberg) Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 3 (photo by Alix Klingenberg)
Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 6 (photo by Alix Klingenberg) Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 4 (Photo by Alix Klingenberg)

Director Margo Gray has honed the cast to adhere to naturalism, as opposed to the heavily stylized acting of West’s era. It’s a choice that definitely scales the production to the more intimate setting of Gunder Mansion, as well as clarifying and updating the play for a modern audience. It’s also a choice that exposes the weaknesses of uneven casting. Gray has brought from her successful run of The Wonder: a Woman Keeps a Secret Sean Patrick Ward (Jimmy Stanton) and Christopher Chamblee (Lt. Gregg), yet many cast performances are too scattershot to convey a cohesive ensemble. Nathan Pease’s turn as Margy’s pimp, Rocky, is sleazy enough yet still doesn’t contain the menace needed to threaten convincingly.

For my money, the audience gets stinted the most during the more vaudevillian portions of the play. The opening of the first scene in Trinidad should shine with musical numbers that warm the audience to Margy’s culminating performance of “Shake That Thing”—a classic Ethel Waters tune that Mae West appropriated. A little more jazz and enthusiasm, as well as a little more shakin’ that thing, might easily make up for musical deficiencies. Or perhaps Tinuade Oyelowo should be given more numbers to rock the audience with that voice of hers. Whatever the case, this is supposed to be the Roaring Twenties, not the Ironic 90’s or the Tight-ass 50’s. It’s not a good sign when there’s more fun to be had listening to the singing of drunken sailors on shore leave.

All in all, the shortcoming’s of Prologue’s production resigns it to community theater status for all their efforts. As Mae would know, it takes performers with a lot more on the ball than this to produce good old-fashioned entertainment.

Rating: ★★

 

Continue reading

New team announced for Theatre Building Chicago’s ‘Musical Theatre Writers Workshop’

Theatre Building Chicago announces it new team of Steinhagen, Holland and Chambers

theatrebuildingchicago-street

Theatre Building Chicago is pleased to announce that Jon Steinhagen and Patrick Holland will join Artistic Director Allan Chambers to “team teach” TBC’s Musical Theatre Writers Workshop. The workshop’s curriculum will continue to focus on the development of the artist in specific fundamentals related to creation of new musicals. The Fall semester focuses on lyrics, music and book and the Winter/Spring semester Practicum takes workshop members through the planning, writing and rehearsal process of a new musical. The introductory workshop sessions will be team-taught by Jon Steinhagen, Patrick Holland and Artistic Director Allan Chambers. This triumvirate of theatre artists brings a wealth of musical theatre writing, directing, and teaching experiences to the workshop. Their years of experience will guide members as they instruct and lead the critique sessions for the introductory first year members.

The 2nd year members and alumni writers will also have the opportunity to work with the three instructors separately or as a team, as they present scenes and songs from full length musicals and one-act children’s musicals. There will usually be two of the three at all session of the 2nd year and alumni workshop. The leader of this group will function as dramaturg/moderator to keep workshop feedback sessions focused and on task.

page_head1c

Jon Steinhagen is an author, actor, composer/musician, and Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists. His plays and musicals have been produced or workshopped from Manhattan to Seattle; his plays include The Applewood Pistols (an “original Chekhov comedy” based on Chekhov’s notebooks), The Velvet Gentleman, Something More Comfortable, Second Mouse, Dating Walter Dante, Aces, Ponzi on Sunday, Perfectly Natural, a collection of his shorter plays, was produced at the Midtown International Theatre Festival (NYC) in July 2009. Jon wrote the music and lyrics for the musicals The Arresting Dilemma of Mr. K (based on Kafka’s The Trial), The Circus of Dr. Lao, Emma & Company (all developed at TBC and STAGES) and the Jeff and After Dark Award-winning Inferno Beach and People Like Us. Jon is also an award-winning musical director, arranger, and actor who has received four Jeff Awards, six After Dark Awards, and three Jeff nominations for writing, musical direction, or acting. Jon is a graduate of the New Tuners Workshops led by John Sparks. He is an associate member of
The Dramatist’s Guild, a member of the Chicago Federation of Musicians, and ensemble member of Signal Ensemble Theatre.

Patrick Holland is a professional Music Director, Conductor, Arranger, Orchestrator, Musician, and Educator has had the pleasure of working with Theatre Building Chicago on many projects over the past 10 years on such STAGES projects as Crazy Mary, Bringers, Continental Divide, The Hard Road, Take Me America, Hunger, and Rex. Patrick has also had the pleasure of working with Allan Chambers on Saints & Sinners as part of the workshop mini-musical project in conjunction
with Loyola University of Chicago. Patrick’s Broadway and National Tout credits include The King and I (with Yul Brynner), Hello Dolly (with Carol Channing), Guys and Dolls (with Leslie Uggams), A Chorus Line, Annie, The Pirates of Penzance and La Cage aux Folles to name a handful. He has had the honor of working in New York and Chicago with industry giants Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Herman, Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin, and Tommy Tune. In the Chicagoland area Patrick has worked with The Goodman Theatre, Light Opera Works, Bailiwick, Theatre Building Chicago, and Chicago Cabaret. He has taught music and musical direction at
Northwestern University, Loyola University and Roosevelt University.

Allan Chambers, Artistic Director of TBC, has served in many capacities for Theatre Building Chicago including dramaturg, director, workshop coordinator and actor. Allan oversees theatre company client services and now directs the musical program. He is the past-president of the Illinois Theatre Association,
a founding and former board member of Chicago Alliance for Playwrights, and artistic consultant for Creative Musical Theatre, an honors class dedicated to the development of new music theatre voices at Valparaiso High School. Allan has served as an adjunct instructor at Robert Morris College and at North Park University, and has worked in various capacities with the Goodman Theatre, Music/Theatre Workshop, Our Town Productions, Prologue Theatre, American DreamWorks, Different Drummer Theatre, Bailiwick Repertory, The Western Stage, Cabrillo Stage, Bigfork Playhouse and North Shore Music Theatre. M.F.A., musical theatre, San Diego State University. B.S., theatre acting/directing, University of Idaho.

 


About the Workshop

The first workshop will be the weekend of September 26-27.

Aspiring composers, lyricists and book writers are encouraged to contact TBC’s Artistic Director, Allan Chambers to schedule a personal interview to assess your skill level and to learn if the Musical Writer’s Workshop can benefit you in your quest  to create new musical works.

Allan can be reached at 773-929-7367 ext 229 or at allan@theatrebuildingchicago.org

Theatre Building Chicago has plans to strategically grow the musical program from the ground up. The Musical Theatre Writers Workshop is the first stage in the development of new projects that will then be ready for Monday Night Musicals, STAGES Festivals, Intensive Workshops,  and eventually onto full-scale productions.

The New Musicals for Kids development pipeline is filling up with exciting new projects from TBC’s workshop as well as the NYU Tisch School MFA program.
TBC also produces the Monday Night Musicals series of concert readings of works in progress. The first Monday Night Musical of the 2009/2010 season is The Spark, October 26, 2009. TBC’s New Musicals for Kids series will open with Tantrum on Tracks October 14, 2009.

TBC’s Musical Theatre Writers Workshop produces the STAGES festival of new musicals. STAGES will be held August 20-22, 2010.  Attendees include producers, directors, writers, composers and musical theatre aficionados from all over the country. STAGES is an opportunity for authors and composers to see and hear their work interpreted by a production team and performed for Chicago audiences. It is also an opportunity for producers and directors to assess new musicals
and musical theatre talent.