Review: The Literati (Chicago dell’Arte)

  
  

Literary lovefest veers off book

   
 

Ned Record, Derek Jarvis and Nick Freed in 'The Literati', presented by Chicago dell'Arte.

  
Chicago dell’Arte presents
  
The Literati
  
by Ned Record, Derek Jarvis and Nick Freed
at the Athemaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
thru April 17  | 
tickets: $20  |  more info  

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

When I first reviewed Chicago dell’Arte’s The Literati, the highly conceptual and gimmick-laced show had a unique charm. It was in a cramped block box at the RBP Rorschach Theatre. The low-budget production was crafty out of necessity, using a ragtag assortment of pillows as chairs and doubling the entryway as a backstage. The small space and the DIY feel added to the production’s high energy and off-kilter Ned Record, Derek Jarvis and Nick Freed in 'The Literati', presented by Chicago dell'Arte.aesthetic.

The remount of The Literati, which occupies a space at the Athenaeum Theatre, has sacrificed some of this charm in exchange for a professional lighting system, permanent seating and a larger space that serves to sap some of the performers’ manic energy. (To the company’s credit, the performance I saw was sparsely attended, which I’m certain adversely affected the overall mood of the show.)

The production rests on a fairly simple device. The three company members, Derek Jarvis, Nick Freed and Ned Record, wheel out a bulletin board containing five columns of literary categories. Below each header are five classic titles, including such works as Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” and Voltaire’s “Candide. Audience members are chosen at random to roll an oversized die, which then denotes which texts will get the Chicago dell’Arte treatment.

Said treatment is a dramatic and concise retelling of the tale with liberal reinterpretation. For example, in the performance I saw, “Great Expectations” was performed with Estella as an android, “Little Women” co-starred a sock puppet and “Beowulf” was done in the style of a live-action role-playing game. Yes, it was a total nerdgasm.

And that’s definitely The Literati‘s target audience—brainy nerds. Although you don’t need to be familiar with all the works being reproduced, it certainly helps heighten the level of appreciation if you do. And the humor in general is one that would tickle The Simpson‘s Comic Book Guy’s funny bone. How many people will really appreciate the narrator announcing Beowulf’s hit-point count? I by no means am making a point that this brand of humor is inferior. It’s just a niche, and those that enjoy this brand of shtick will get their share of laughs.

Ned Record, Derek Jarvis and Nick Freed in 'The Literati', presented by Chicago dell'Arte.And although the larger space does make it more difficult to milk the comedy, what hurts the show more is the constant asides that interrupt the action of the stories. The three performers play caricatures of themselves throughout the production. For example, even when Jarvis is playing Frankenstein’s monster, he’s the character of Jarvis playing Frankenstein’s monster. That’s an interesting meta device, but when the performers constantly break fictional literary characters to add quips as their caricature selves, it drags the momentum of the piece down. After a while, it becomes less a lesson in literature and more one in tedium.

This show has a lot of heart and a lot of charm. And because it’s highly unlikely two performances will be identical, it’s worth seeing multiple times. But to keep audiences coming back, I suggest that Chicago dell’Arte concentrate more on the humor derived from the source material rather than from the banter between the performers.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Ned Record, Derek Jarvis and Nick Freed in 'The Literati', presented by Chicago dell'Arte.

  
   

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Review: My Filthy Hunt (The Right Brain Project)

     
     

‘My Filthy Hunt’ sells itself on grit, but offers better

     
     

Elizabeth Orr, Bries Vannon, The Right Brain Project, My Filthy Hunt

   
Right Brain Project, i/a/w Horizon Arts and Richard Jordan Productions presents
   
My Filthy Hunt
      
Written by Philip Stokes
Directed by
Nathan Robbel
at
The RBP Rorschach, 4001 N. Ravenswood (map)
thru March 19  | 
tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

In the first minute of Philip Stokes’ curiously-titled My Filthy Hunt, four brooding actors stare down the audience, strip to their skivvies, then bounce around while manically accompanying some blaring rock.

From this unpromising start comes a thoughtful, engaging, sensitive play about devastation and recovery.

Though it doesn’t “spit in the face of theatrical convention” as the show’s press release–and indirectly, the grim, tawdry posters– suggest, it’s probably Erin Elizabeth Orr, Greg Wenz, Right Brain Project, My Filthy Huntbest that it doesn’t. “In-yer-face theatre” is challenging in the era of anything-goes art, and dependence on shock to elicit attention usually comes at the sacrifice of actual substance. These artists have something to say, and though the source-material may allow it to in lesser directorial hands, the message doesn’t get muddied with an initiative to offend.

Even when delivered by players in their underpants.

Four strong, detached monologues follow the opening, each centering on sexual or emotional insecurities. The cast (comprised of Erin Elizabeth Orr, Emma Peterson, Bries Vannon, and Greg Wenz) is animated and earnest, finding the anguish and humor in each speech.

When those concepts overlap, such as when a young man relays his attempt to commit suicide with a bottle of fish oil supplements, the ensemble is at its best. Likewise, a woman’s lament about the more sinister side of growing up attractive is touching and thought-provoking.

The latter-half of this one-act is where director Nathan Robbel’s focus on specificity really shines. The quartet responds to a tragedy with a tightly-woven, almost Pinter-like scene of short-fused call-and-response dialogue. It’s almost musical. The details of the event are left mostly in the background, but they’re unimportant. Elements of loss are universal, and these actors convey them with empathy and authenticity. One shouts out for donuts, and we see the nonsense that can overtake us in moments where reality becomes incomprehensible.

Stokes’ text is composed with a careful hand, exploring dark issues with a sense of maturity and restraint. His otherwise talky play is made visually fascinating by Robbel’s movement work–always enough to heighten the stories without distracting from them.

Robbel makes playful, decisively physical use of The Right Brain Project’s tiny (it’s a stretch to call the space a black box) Ravenswood theater. Though sight-lines are at times an issue, the production team embraces the opportunity for smart minimalism. There are no props save for some cell phones and one well-used coat rack, and many of the emotional and thematic shifts are indicated through Michael C. Smith’s resourceful lighting design.

Good theatre doesn’t require much to be compelling. My Filthy Hunt is an argument for how.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Bries Vannon, Elizabeth Orr, Right Brain Project, My Filthy Hunt

My Filthy Hunt continues through March 19th (8:00pm Thursdays – Saturdays, 7:00pm Sundays), with an additional industry performance scheduled Monday, March 7th. Admission is a suggested donation of $15. Reservations are highly recommended, and can be made by calling the RBP box office at 773.750.2033, or by emailing requests to tickets@therbp.org. For more information, please visit www.therbp.org.   All photos by Nathan Robbel.

     
     

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