Review: This (Theater Wit)

 
  

Theater Wit exposes adultery with intelligence and grace

  
  

Rebecca Spence and John Byrnes in 'This' at Theater Wit. Photo by Johnny Knight.

  
Theater Wit presents
  
This
  
Written by Melissa James Gibson
Directed by
Jeremy Wechsler 
at
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
through March 27  |  tickets: $24  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

What if “the other woman” was not some scheming, seductive siren but your best friend? Many dramas make melodramatic hash out of both kinds of scenarios but This, the latest production of Theater Wit, keeps a cool, compassionate head about sexual transgressions between friends. Melissa James Gibson’s comic script handles the subject with insight, gentle maturity and grace. Theater Wit has a hit on its hands because This demonstrates the right mix of humor and common sense about relationships, love, loss, and recovery. Meanwhile, Jeremy Wechsler’s direction is nothing less than a deft touch–keeping the action clear, light and decidedly on track.

Rebecca Spence as Jane in 'This' at Theater Wit.  Photo by Johnny Knight.Jane (Rebecca Spence) has spent the past year grieving the death of her husband, Roy. Fortunately, she’s had the support of her friends from college, Tom (John Byrnes) and Marrill (Lily Mojekwu), who are married and having their first child; and Alan (Mitchell J. Fain), the “gay friend.” While the gay friend has pretty much become a stock character for contemporary comedy, Fain makes the role distinctly his own, delivering Gibson’s dialogue with a razor sharp edge, which makes the humor more vivid and Alan’s personal revelations more poignant.

Jane’s friendships with these three carry their own sharp edge; the play is quite knowing about the ways friendships can both nourish and undermine the individual. Dinner at Tom and Merrill’s starts with Merrill’s attempts to set up Jane with a new guy, Jean-Pierre (Steve Hadnagy), but it also subjects Jane to a game that puts her on the spot and pulls more information out of her than she’s ready to reveal. Later, Tom shows up on Jane’s doorstep, confessing to a well of untapped desire for her. Jane’s slip-up with Tom acts as the catalyst to plumb whole underlying assumptions her friends have about her and about each other.

The show is not just about Jane but also about how a group of friends handles the rocky changes within long-term relationships—new stresses, miscommunication, unspoken needs and momentary betrayals. Scene after scene regales the audience with witty banter, but the play never strays too far from the loss really haunting Jane. Spence makes every moment count–both her surrender to Tom and her final meltdown are convincingly real. Merrill’s postpartum malaise over her marriage to Tom is grounded by Mojekwu’s solid intelligence and sensuality. Byrnes brings the right level of silent frustration to Tom getting shut out in the marriage. As for Hadnagy’s portrayal of Jean-Pierre, he keeps a light touch—all the better to play an easygoing continental without falling into French-y caricature.

If there are any flaws to the play’s otherwise realistic portrayal of friendship and relationships, it’s in Tom and Merrill’s rather rapid recovery after Jane has let the cat out of the bag about her and Tom’s affair. Also, Alan’s perfect memory–to establish the truth of Merrill and Tom’s He Said/She Said moments—comes across as more of a contrivance than actual drama. But the smoothness with which the cast skates through Gibson’s script redeems these flaws. Wechsler’s cast engages the script with an enviable liquid alacrity, creating scenes with instinctually fluid reactions between people who have known each other for ages. For all the burden of Jane’s secret shame and the pressured snippiness between Tom and Merrill, these are people who like each other and rely on each other’s company as a witness to their lives. No matter what their flaws, they are just the people to bring Jane back to the land of the living.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Rebecca Spence and Lily Mojekwu in Theater Wit's "This". Photo by Johnny Knight.

Mitchell J. Fain and Rebecca Spence in Theater Wit's "This". Photo by Johnny Knight. Rebecca Spence and John Byrnes in Theater Wit's "This". Photo by Johnny Knight.

This continues through March 27th, with performance  Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.   Single tickets are $15 to $35.  For tickets and information, visit TheaterWit.org or call the Theater Wit box office, 773.975.8150.

    
     

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REVIEW: Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Remy Bumppo)

Now we know why the French have their own kiss

 

liaison

 
Remy Bumppo presents:
 
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
 
by Christopher Hampton
based on novel by Pierre Choderlos De Laclos
directed by David Darlow
at The Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 2nd (more info | buy tickets)
 
review by Katy Walsh 

Before the inventions of texting, reality television and video games, people, at least the French Aristocrats, unleashed their passions with love letters, self-created drama and sexual conquests. Remy Bumppo presents Les Liaisons Dangereuses, an 18th century tale of love, lust and revenge. The Madame de Merteuil and the Le Vicomte de Valmont are lovers turned friends turned game players. Merteuil enlists Vicomte to seduce Cecile. Merteuil wants to disgrace Cecile’s betrothed who happens to be vert Mme Merteuil (Rebecca Spence)_Valmont (Nick Sandys) Merteuil’s former lover. Vicomte is currently wooing a married Madame de Tourvel for his own personal best in conquering a woman of moral integrity. Vicomte agrees to Merteuil’s side project because Cecile’s mother badmouthed him to Tourvel. As a reward, Merteuil agrees to have sex with Vicomte if he produces written proof of his affair with Tourvel. Let the games begin! But who’s playing who? Explaining why the French had a kiss named after them, Les Liaisons Dangereuses erupts with passionate trysts for a sexually charged escapade of entertainment.

The Hugh Hefner of the 18th century, Vicomte (Nick Sandys) is the original playboy. A charming and confident Sandys nails the part and the ladies with a tongue well versed for intercourse. Sandys glides through the lengthy discourse with witty elegance. With promises to “dominate your sex and avenge my own”, Merteuil (Rebecca Spence) is Vicomte’s opponent in games of lust and cruelty. Despite the missing years of bitter heartache, Spence’s facial expressions are deliciously diabolical serving up brutality with wide-eyed smiling innocence. Margaret Katch (Cecile) is perfect as a promiscuous teen in secret rebellion against her mother. David Darlow directs the cast through the dialogue heavy script at a quick pace with thoughtful pauses for dramatic climax.

horiz Mme Merteuil (Rebecca Spence)_Cecile (Margaret Katch) horiz Mme Tourvel (Linda Gillum)_Valmont (Nick Sandys)
horiz Emilie (Sienna Harris) and Valmont (Nick Sandys) vert2 Valmont (Nick Sandys)_Mme Merteuil (Rebecca Spence) liaison

Multiple scenes occur transporting the action from salon to bedroom in various locales. Alan Donahue cleverly reuses the furniture and paintings with modified positions to illustrate the vary of address. Chambermaids rotate a screen on rollers and a daybed effortlessly to make the scene transformations seamless. The costumes by Emily Waecker are exquisite for a visual history lesson on outer and under wear. Vicomte’s coats would be the envy of Liberace with their elaborate finery. Merteuil dons a multiple layer gray silk monstrosity that wouldn’t be figure flattering but still appealing for its classiness.

The award winning playwright Christopher Hampton penned a clever adaption of the up and downside of immorality. Actualizing his script, Remy Bumppo delivers multiple orgasmic moments in this production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

 
Rating: ★★★★
 

horiz Cecilie (Margaret Katch)_Valmont (Nick Sandys)

 

 

Extra Credit: Illustrated Field Guide (PDF)
As part of their “think theatre” mission, Remy Bumppo creates a production guide designed to enrich your theatre experience.  Hard copies of this field guide can be purchased for $5.00, and archived guides for previous seasons are available for $10.00.  To purchase a field guide, contact Stephanie Kulke via e-mail or at 773-244-8119.

Running Time: Two hours and forty-five minutes with intermission

           

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