Review: Erratica (The American Demigods)

     
     

Sex and Shakespeare for the scholastically inclined

     
     

Erratica at America Demigods, by Reina Hardy

   
American Demigods present
  
Erratica
  
Written by Reina Hardy
Directed by Dan Foss
at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
through May 14  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The American Demigods are working with one sharp and sassy script for their latest production at Second Stage Theatre. Dan Foss directs a taut, dynamically funny cast for Erratica, by Reina Hardy. An academic farce, Erratica brings brains and loins together with a typical dash of intellectual neurosis. Hardy, being the founder and Artistic Director of The Viola Project, which introduces young girls to Shakespeare, is eminently familiar with the academic field she spoofs. Her professorial protagonist, Dr. Samantha Stafford (Lisa Herceg), idolizes her subject, the Bard, to the rejection of all others. Yet she finds herself up to her eyeballs in moonstruck, mediocre student-poets, glib, scheming and mercenary publicists, and competitive colleagues who would also like to get into her pants. Even the ghost of Christopher Marlowe (David A scene from the American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.Wilhelm) desires her amorous, as well as academic, attention. But all the good doctor wants is love distilled to a purity of lived experience that matches Shakespeare’s sublime and ineffable lines.

Of course, no one can live up to that—but that doesn’t stop the puerile attempts of one of her students, Gregory, to woo her with his verse. We never get to see Gregory. But we do get a full on rant against Dr. Stafford from Elspeth (Victoria Bucknell), his defender, for rebuffing Gregory’s advances by savaging his poems. Though stuck on Gregory herself, Elspeth reviles the professor for reducing Gregory to cringing under the table at Commons “eating nothing but Triscuits and powdered Tang.” If Elspeth cannot have Gregory, she at least wants him to be happy in his own heart’s desire—something that absolutely dumbfounds the professor.

Against her wishes to be left alone, Stafford is pulled into an undertow of messy, hormonally-driven desire. Likewise, her desire for academic purity, such as the publication of her highly intellectual treatise on Shakespeare, meets with the mercenary side of publishing–represented by her leggy, fast-talking and devious publicist Lisa Milkmin (Kelly Yacono). Herceg charmingly delivers Stafford’s smart and sardonic exasperation down pat and, while Bucknell makes a classic comic foil with her character’s adolescent insecurity and Wilhelm bounces off her rebuffs of Marlowe with intelligent, roguish charm, nothing crackles as much as the showdown between professor and publicist. It’s style meets substance—and superficial style is definitely winning.

A scene from the American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.Lisa wants Stafford to shape her book into a “Shakespeare for the Cosmo girl.” But failing that, she pressures Stafford into translating the newly discovered “Quinberry Diaries,” a recent academic find of an Elizabethan trollop’s journals that has garnered intense notoriety and landed a career coup for the university’s head librarian, Dr. Hooper. “You’re pleading like an undergraduate,” Hooper smarmily quips once Stafford comes asking for the dairies, “that’s exciting.” If Hardy’s play has any flaws, it’s in the way her cerebral protagonist has to skirt sexual harassment moments like these to keep the whole play light and fluid. Foss’s direction simply drives the play forward and the mysterious theft of the Quinberry Diaries distracts from Hooper delivering even further unwanted sexual advances.

Likewise, for such a smart comedy, the play wraps up a little formulaically, with a character leaping from behind an arras to resolve the final entanglement or Stafford showing sudden sexual interest in Hooper where there was none before. All that can be said is that Hardy’s shrewd dialogue and Foss’s clean-cut direction takes the audience through the journey with zippy alacrity. So, savor the juicy conspiratorial scene between Elspeth and Lisa. Enjoy Stafford’s alcoholic binge breakdown, when she declares, “Vodka’s like black—it goes with everything.” Appreciate the quieter moments when Marlowe tries to get through to her. Life isn’t pure poetry. And that’s a good thing.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

The cast of American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.

     

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Review: The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll (The Mammals)

  
  

Mammals’ dream journal struggles to maintain balance

  
  

Gabe Garza as Hyde, Sarah Scanlon as Eve - The Mammals - Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll

   
The Mammals present
   
The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll
  
Written by Jason Adams, Scott Barsotti, Randall Colburn, Bob Fisher,
Reina Hardy, Warwick Johnson and Jeremy Menekseoglu
Directed by
Bob Fisher
at
Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ste B-1 (map)
through April 2  |  tickets: $20  | 
more info

Reviewed by by Barry Eitel

In their The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll, The Mammals are quick to dismiss Robert Louis Stevenson, decrying his novel as a “penny dreadful.” Instead, at the onset of the play, our guide Professor Oliver Mastodon Peale says that we are about to get a taste of the real story. He claims that next to the titular doctor’s eviscerated body laid a book, half written in neat cursive, half written in near-illegible handwriting. This adaptation, as we’re led to believe, is actually a dramatization of that story. It’s a bold move; one that breathes life into the Victorian-era tale.

Gabe Garza as Hyde - Dream Journal of Doctor Jeckyll - The MammalsKnown for their exploration of the horrific and grotesque, Dr. Jekyll and his alter-ego Mr. Hyde provide ample fodder for the Mammals. However, the play can never decide whether it is a gothic descent into hell or a smartly-done spoof. In the end, the show becomes a victim of taking itself too seriously.

In lieu of actors, claims Peale (Jason Adams wrapped in a robe and marvelously fake moustache), he has hired sleepwalkers. We watch as Jekyll (Scott Barsotti) battles, comforts, and eventually succumbs to Hyde (Gabe Garza). Basically, it’s a story dwelling on the well-explored turf of Apollonian versus Dionysian. The Mammals make very clear that Jekyll is a man of science while Hyde concerns himself with art and magic (usually through harming cats). We watch as Jekyll, through Hyde, tears into those around him and, finally, into himself.

The play was written by committee, with contributions by Jason Adams, Scott Barsotti, Randall Colburn, Bob Fisher, Reina Hardy, Warwick Johnson, and Jeremy Menekseoglu (whew). It works best when Jekyll and Hyde play off each other like some sort of bipolar comedy duo. The most memorable scene is when the boorish Hyde becomes Jekyll’s wingman, giving him terrible advice for wooing Eve (Sarah Scanlon).

The writers seem to have taken for granted that we all know how the story ends, and the play clumsily spirals into the finale without much concrete motivation. The last couple of scenes, although striking, don’t really connect into a fully-realized arc. The framing device, although funny, doesn’t help things. For some reason, a pair of Siamese twins (Ashlee Edgemon and Anne Marie Boyer, who are not real conjoined twins) do what they can to derail Peale’s demonstration. It also seems like flute-wielding demons are trying to take over the show? Whatever they’re up to, the soundtrack they provide is eerily excellent.

Gabe Garza as Hyde, Sarah Scanlon as Eve, in The Mammals' original production of 'The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll', now playing at Zoo Studio.I take issue with the writers’ casual remarks about pedophilia and rape. Some of Hyde’s comments seem like cheap shots for shock value. The play’s moments of high tension are usually overblown, like when Scanlon and Garza scream at each other as they discuss the nature of screams. Again, it’s the comedy that should’ve been the star—the funniest moments can be subversive yet push the story forward. While not one of the smartest points of the show, Garza rolling around on the floor after a punch to the groin and groaning “My balls!” is a highlight.

Either way, the cast fully commits to the material, whether they’re playing a short tune on the dulcimer or screaming at the audience. And some fascinating moments are pulled out of the general chaos. In the last few scenes, a tired Peale goes into a beautifully metatheatrical monologue about the nature of art. John Ross Wilson’s cabinet-o-curios set provides a feast for the eyes, with plenty of drawers and doors for the cast to open and close. Like a dream, a lot of Dream Journal doesn’t quite make sense, but it definitely keeps your interest. Claiming ‘but that’s the point!’ seems a lazy argument to me, but it works well enough to keep this massive collaboration hammering along.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Gabe Garza as Hyde, in The Mammals' 'The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll'

The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll continues through April 2nd at Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood #B1, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 10pm.  BYOB! Tickets are $20, and reservations can be made by calling  866-593-4614.

  
  

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Review: Gorilla Tango’s “The 24-Hour Plays: Chicago”

24 hour_bryan and cast

The 24 Hour Plays: Chicago
at Gorilla Tango Theatre

Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Just Say Yes Entertainment has brought The 24 Hour Plays from New York back to Chicago. The 24 Hour Plays are a process in which a group of writers, actresses/actors, directors and crew people work together to create five plays from scratch and within only 24 hours of conception they perform them live at Gorilla Tango Theatre.

Without knowing any details about the performances, the draw to these Monday night shows is the risk that the performers are taking. Can they memorize their lines? Has the cast created any chemistry after working together for just one day? Can the writers guide the performers or will the actors be forced to improvise some of the crucial dialogue? Most at doubt, can they present a quality performance with such limited rehearsal time?

24 hour_Daughters 1-1[1] Overall Gorilla Tango and Just Say Yes Entertainment put on a fun weekday escape for a casual crowd of young adults and middle aged couples. The audience is mostly from the local Bucktown neighborhood, and the relaxed atmosphere and fair priced Miller Lites encourage friendly conversation throughout the audience. The dialogues were well written and performances smoothly delivered, although most of them lacked depth.

Most of the plays were written to include some sort of ironic twist at the end. The haste in developing a plot fast enough to twist the ending created some confusion as to the various themes within the plays. The characters lacked development and the storylines are changed so fast that the audience did not have a chance to become emotionally engaged. Some of the performances lacked necessary physical emotion, especially in many of the actor’s facial expressions. Instead of creating a relationship with the audience, most of the plays resorted to gimmicks to create an impact with the viewers. These shortcomings are to be expected with only 24 hours to create and prepare the performance, but one show stood out amongst the others and did find the depth and beauty of its characters.

The Daughters of Doherty was creatively written by Reina Hardy. The script consisted of various themes which seem to branch off of each other into new questions and ideas. Her characters had a history to them, and a personality in their comments. The direction of Zach Wilson did not force the plot along or try to rush to explain every detail. He let the untold facts create mystery in Hardy’s characters and gave the audience the opportunity to independently relate to them. I only wish I could see a full production of this play so I can have a better understanding of the emotional tension that hung over this scene.

In The Daughters of Doherty three half-sisters are preparing a dance for the youngest one’s wedding day. The significance of this reunion is that they are not familiar with each other. They just recently found out that they share the same father. Amanda Goodyear plays the resistant sister. She smokes a cigarette, ignoring her sisters futile dance rehearsals, and prefers to engage in conversation with her father (Bill Merker) instead of joining in on the preparations. The dialogue between Amanda and her father may be cold, but there is a trust and sincere understanding between them. Their relationship allows for the snotty honesty that delivers terrific jokes centered on her drug addiction. The close relationship between Amanda and her father is evident, although throughout the scene you can feel something sad and hidden beneath the conversation. In the obligatory twist (though, in this instance, well-written) we find out that the relationship between Amanda and father are not at all what we thought.

Amanda Goodyear fully absorbed this character, and appeared at ease with the complicated personality of her role. With the assistance of Reina Hardy’s brilliant script, Amanda’s performance stood out among all others Monday night. In just 24 hours she created a complicated, thought-provoking young adult that impacted the audience.

gtt1 Not every performance is going to “knock your socks off” at The 24 Hour Plays. It is too complicated for even the most talented cast to produce something with consistent quality in just 24 hours; although, the format does offer the opportunity to discover that new “up and comer” and special talent that possesses the ability to rise to such a pressure filled occasion.

Rating: Recommended

What: The 24 Hour Plays: Chicago
Where: Gorilla Tango Theatre
When: Monday nights (6/15 and 6/22)
Tickets: $10 – call 773-598-4549