Review: The Outgoing Tide (Northlight Theatre)

     
     

Northlight creates a compassionate, witty world premiere

     
     

John Mahoney (Gunner), Thomas J. Cox (Jack) and Rondi Reed (Peg)

  
Northlight Theatre presents
   
   
The Outgoing Tide
   
Written by Bruce Graham
Directed by BJ Jones
at North Shore Center the Performing Arts, Skokie (map)
through June 19  |  tickets: $30-$50  |  more info 

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

The shock of a loved one turning into a bewildered stranger—that’s the curse of Alzheimer’s Disease. Like the wrath of God, in this new work it’s visited on a small family living on the shore of the Chesapeake. But it could easily be any in the audience. That’s one reason The Outgoing Tide, an effective world premiere from Northlight Theatre, is as much a rehearsal for the future as theater can offer. The other is the utter honesty of BJ Jones casting and staging.

John Mahoney (Gunner) and Rondi Reed (Peg).Author Bruce Graham compassionately and wittily considers his play’s ongoing crisis—a father’s senility as a permanent impairment—from all sides. It’s wrenching to hear as confident an actor as John Mahoney, Chicago icon, suddenly descend into the depths of a terminal brain malfunction. His Gunner Concannon is a shanty-Irish success, a blue-collar trucker used to getting his way. But time is taking a daily toll: his tested but true wife Peg (down-to-earth Rondi Reed) faces “a new battle every day.” Gunner repeats himself, can’t remember basic information, recalls the past perfectly but forgets yesterday or who he’s with, and wanders away, helpless to return.

But, unlike Alzheimer patients in the later stages, Gunner can feel and taste his diminishing returns, enough to propose a terrifying idea to Peg and his son Jack (himself facing two other family crises, divorce and alienation from his teenage son). Like Willie Loman before him, Gunner will arrange an accident. The $2.4 million payout from this self-administered euthanasia will free himself from dependency and diapers in a hateful hospice, give Peg the comfortable future that that expense would have negated, and enable Gunner to open the restaurant he’s always dreamed of. But it has to be tomorrow because the future’s not on Gunner’s side: With winter approaching, a boat heading out will soon stand out.

Much of the play deals with the denial and panic triggered by Gunner’s decision to take his boat out and plunge himself into the “outgoing tide.” Peg despairs that, with Gunner gone, she’ll have no one to care for, though Jack (Thomas J. Cox, looking as bewildered as you’d expect) will need her even more now. Jack hates the thought that his dream depends on his dad’s death.

     
Rondi Reed (Peg) and John Mahoney (Gunner). Thomas J. Cox (Jack) and John Mahoney (Gunner).
Thomas J. Cox (Jack) and Rondi Reed Peg). John Mahoney (Gunner). Rondi Reed (Peg) and in the background Thomas J. Cox (Jack) in Northlight Theatre's "The Outgoing Tide" by Bruce Graham, directed by BJ Jones. Rondi Reed Peg) and Thomas J. Cox (Jack)

Clearly, this is no “On Golden Pond,” full of sentimental banter (“you old poop”) and analogies to lost loons. (It’s a lot more like Marsha Norman’s “’night, Mother,” where a suicide looms over, and finally finishes, the action.) There’s enough humor (what if a demented man, bent on murder-suicide, forgets to commit the second crime?) to leaven the loaf. The particulars of this beleaguered family are balanced against the universal plight that we’re all clocks fated to run down until we tick no longer. Flashbacks fill us in on a marriage that clearly grew from love into, well, whatever is left now.

Spry and game, Mahoney brings an energetic actor’s instincts to a part that doesn’t always need them. His sheer spryness somewhat blunts the seriousness of Gunner’s losing game, but it also makes his sudden losses of reality all the more wrenching. Reed exudes a feisty practicality that, alas, is useless in this family calamity. Cox depicts how cherished memories turn toxic when their source is no longer the person you grew up with.

Yes, The Outgoing Tide is definitely a promissory note for crises to come. See it now before the tide comes back.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Thomas J. Cox (Jack), John Mahoney (Gunner) and Rondi Reed (Peg).

Performances: through June 19th, with performances Tuesdays at 7:30pm, Wednesdays at 1pm and 7:30pm, Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2:30pm and 8:00pm, and Sundays 2:30 and 7:00pm. (some variations may occur – check website for exact performance info)  Tickets: Tickets are $40-$50, and can be purchased by phone (847-673-6300) or online at www.northlight.org. Location: All performances take place at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie (map).

     
     

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Review: A Twist of Water (Route 66 Theatre)

  
  

Now extended through June 26th!!

An ode to family, hardship, rebirth: A contemporary masterpiece

  
  

Stef Tovar in a scene from Route 66 Theatre's 'A Twist of Water'.  Projections by John Boesche.

  
Route 66 Theatre Company presents
       
A Twist of Water
  
Written by Caitlin Montanye Parrish
Co-Created and Directed by Erica L. Weiss
at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago
through June 26  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

Route 66 Theatre‘s world premier of A Twist of Water accomplishes a rare theatrical feat. It balances genuine poignancy with sharp wit all while evoking real human emotion. There is nothing maudlin about this play. There is no contrivance or trite scenarios. You will cry real tears as you sympathize with the fictional characters who feel very, very real.

The play is about a family, Noah (Stef Tovar) and his adopted daughter Jira (Falashay Pearson). Noah’s long-time partner and Jira’s other father recently passed away in a tragic accident. As the two cope with the loss, the death begins to serve as an invisible wedge that drives them apart.

Falashay Pearson and Stef Tovar in a scene from Route 66 Theatre's 'A Twist of Water'. Noah seeks solace in his youthful colleague Liam (Alex Hugh Brown), who has an affinity for Carl Sandburg. Both are teachers, and, to complicate matters, Liam is Jira’s instructor. This places Liam in a precarious situation, where one loyalty rests with Jira as her teacher and another with Noah as his potential lover.

Meanwhile, Jira wishes to expand the scope of her family, and so she seeks out her birth mother. Noah takes this as a personal condemnation of his parenthood, further splitting father and daughter apart. Their relationship is further fleshed out as we discover just what happened in the hospital the day that Noah’s partner died.

Throughout, we hear Noah’s inner thoughts through a series of monologues. These monologues, beautifully told and breathtakingly staged, compare the hope, destruction and rebirth of his life with that of the city of Chicago, from its original founding to the Great Fire to the rebuilding. It’s a lovely and poetic parallel that effectively conveys the protagonist’s personal evolution.

Playwright Caitlin Montanye Parrish, along with director and co-creator Erica Weiss, have put to paper a contemporary masterpiece. This script is tight. Liam’s snarky humor is punchy and laugh-out-loud funny. Emotionally charged scenes crescendo and decrescendo organically. Each character’s histories are examined, providing the audience with necessary insights into their motivations. There are no questions left unanswered that demand an answer. It’s such a welcome sight to see a script produced that has undergone a complete and thorough editing process before being put to the stage.

Tovar’s portrayal of Noah is realistically complex. He adeptly performs the range of emotions required of this layered play. In one scene, he is a lovestruck widower. In another, he’s a heartbroken father. No matter what, he’s always convincing.

Meanwhile, young Pearson—who is making her post-collegiate theatrical debut—holds her own. She portrays Jira as an emotionally confused teenager while steering clear of melodrama. As for Brown, his confident, subdued portrayal of Liam is perfectly paired with Tovar’s angsty Noah.

I would be remiss to not make mention of the scenic design, which is practically a character itself. Developed collaboratively by Stephen H. Carmody, Sean Mallary and John Boesche, the stage is a three-dimensional blank canvas that is colored by a shifting series of projections. It allows the characters to exist in both real space and metaphysical environments.

A Twist of Water is an important play that speaks to our time. Hopefully it will see an extended run because it deserves a large audience. Just remember to bring a tissue because, when I saw it, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Stef Tovar and Alex Hugh Brown in a scene from Route 66 Theatre's 'A Twist of Water'.

A Twist of Water continues through June 26th, with performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30pm, and Sunday at 2:30pm. All performances at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport.  More info at http://twistofwater.wordpress.com/about/.

  
  

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REVIEW: Daddy Long Legs (Northlight Theatre)

 

Tuneless letter reading makes a dull ‘Daddy’

 

Robert Adelman Hancock and Megan McGinnis in Northlight Theatre's "Daddy Long Legs". Photo by Jeanne Tanner.

   
Northlight Theatre presents
   
Daddy Long Legs
    
Music/Lyrics by Paul Gordon,
Book by
John Caird
Directed by John Caird
North Shore Center for Performing Arts, Skokie (map)
Through October 24  |  
Tickets: $45–55  |   more info 

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Based on a lively, epistolary, young-adult novel written in 1912 by Jean Webster, Northlight Theatre’s regional premiere Daddy Long Legs centers on Jerusha Abbott, "The Oldest Orphan in the John Grier Home," who unexpectedly earns the offer to attend college sponsored by one of the orphanage trustees. That thrusts her into a world she’s never before known.

Megan McGinnis in Northlight Theatre's "Daddy Long Legs". Photo by Jeanne Tanner. Webster’s story indeed has long legs — the author turned it into a stage play that ran on Broadway in 1914. Mary Pickford starred in a silent movie version in 1919, and the 1935 Shirley Temple film “Curly Top” was rooted in that film. A British stage musical called Love from Judy opened in 1952 and ran for two years, and Fred Astaire starred in a 1955 Hollywood musical version. It’s since become a Japanese animation and a Korean film. 

In Webster’s version of the tale, Jerusha details her collegiate adventures in a series of charming and unaffected letters to her carefully anonymous and unresponsive benefactor, "Mr. Smith," whom she nicknames "Daddy-Long-Legs." Although we may have our suspicions, readers don’t find out who Smith really is until Jerusha does — nearly at the end of the novel. Webster’s novel evolves into a romance, but lots of its charm comes from Jerusha’s descriptions of her hijinks at school. The dissatisfying new chamber musical by Paul Gordon and John Caird gives us little of that, concentrating on the incipient love affair.

We learn from the outset that Smith is really one Jervis Pendleton, a much younger man than Jerusha believes, and we watch as he falls in love through the mails and plots to meet his plucky protege. That removes most of the mystery and suspense.

For example, in the novel, we are as mystified as Jerusha when her sponsor won’t permit her to spend the summer in the Adirondacks with her college roommate, while the musical makes it clear his objection is to the roomie’s handsome brother.

Played by Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock, Jerusha and Jervis are the only characters. The focus remains on Jerusha and her letters, which she sings. While Daddy Long Legs isn’t quite a sung-through musical, these recitatives make up much of the play. McGinnis has a sweet voice and Hancock, who mainly sings backup, does fine, but the songs are undistinguished and Gordon’s score largely tuneless.

David Farley’s set is, for unknown reasons, littered with luggage, with a central moat full of suitcases and trunks that the actors keep circling, somewhat dizzily, though Jervis spends most of his time stuck rear stage in a book-lined office.

Megan McGinnis in Northlight Theatre's "Daddy Long Legs". Photo by Jeanne Tanner. Robert Adelman Hancock in Northlight Theatre's "Daddy Long Legs". Photo by Jeanne Tanner. Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock in Northlight Theatre's "Daddy Long Legs". Photo by Jeanne Tanner.
Megan McGinnis in Northlight Theatre's "Daddy Long Legs". Photo by Jeanne Tanner. Megan McGinnis in Northlight Theatre's "Daddy Long Legs". Photo by Jeanne Tanner.

Since the one-way nature of the correspondence prevents much back and forth between the two characters, the play becomes largely action-free. No matter how endearing, what makes for good narrative in a book becomes rather dull on stage. That might not matter so much if the music were more interesting, but as it is, the play needs more life and more people in it. In the novel, we get this though Jerusha’s rich descriptions of her friends and others she interacts with.

In the first song, "The Oldest Orphan in the John Grier Home," we get a little of this, as Jerusha mimics people at the orphanage. Had this kind of characterization continued through the musical, it might have worked. But from then on, the singing letters do more telling than showing. McGinnis’s charming and animated performance goes far to make up for this, but not far enough.

Moreover, for all its modernisms in terms of cast and staging, Daddy Long Legs seems overly old-fashioned and simple. A story aimed at young girls in 1912 rather lacks spice for adult audiences a century later.

   
   
Rating: ★★
   
   

Megan McGinnis in Northlight Theatre's "Daddy Long Legs". Photo by Jeanne Tanner.

 

 

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REVIEW: Low Down Dirty Blues (Northlight Theatre)

Cheer up with some low down blues

 Low Down Dirty Blues018

  
Northlight Theatre presents
   
Low Down Dirty Blues
   
Created by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman
Directed by
Randal Myler
Music direction by
Dan Wheetman
through July 3rd  | 
tickets: $39-$54  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh

‘How can I be over the hill if I never made it to the top?’ Life musings are chatted and sang about afterhours at a Chicago South Side nightclub… interestingly, it’s a Saturday afternoon in Skokie. Northlight Theatre presents the world premiere of Low Down Dirty Blues at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. Created and directed by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman, Low Down Dirty Blues is a show  Gergory (2940) vfeaturing a collection of blues songs intermingled with life stories from the singers. Big Mama’s, a fictional nighttime hotspot, has been created onstage with the authentic look that transports the audience from northern suburbs to the urban South Side.

Low Down Dirty Blues is a tribute to a passing musical genre. The performers sing the blues about singing the blues. Originating in the 1920’s, blues songs were a voice for the African American culture during an oppressive time. Over the decades, the musical stylings have been glamorized and made famous by Chicago. Without the severity of segregation and discrimination conditions, the blues have become more playful – no matter what the political or social climate is, men and women will always be trying to get their mojo working. Low Down… is an evening of sultry, sexy fun that makes you ‘Shake Your Money Maker.’

‘My Stove’s in Good Condition” is one of many song titles that would appear mundane. But the way Felicia P. Fields sings about cleaning her range, puts household appliances on the aphrodisiac list. The sexual innuendos are belted out with soul and sass. Fields uses her powerful voice to warn men ‘Don’t Jump My Pony’ if you don’t know how to ride. She’s hilarious! In the very familiar ‘Good Morning Heartache,’ Fields transitions from her bawdy self to melancholy with sweet sadness. The songs are relationship advice with good natured wisdom interspersed with memories of bad times. The charming Mississippi Charles Bevel sings mischievously about where to put his jelly and later poignantly about ‘Grapes of Wrath.’ Gregory Porter shares personal despair singing ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’ as the target of female angst. Later, his rendition of ‘Change is Gonna Come’ is gospel-quality inspirational. Leading the magnificent singing quartet, Sandra Reaves-Phillips IS Big Mama. Playing an aged singer and nightclub owner, Reaves-Phillips holds court perched on a pile of pillows. From ‘They Call Me Big Mama’ to ‘Lord, I Tried’, Reaves-Phillips has the legendary blues voice. It’s deep and rich with crackly hints of a smoky lifestyle. Throughout the show, Reaves-Phillips makes side comments, slaps her ass and drinks from a flask. She is pure Blues Club Diva!

 

Gregory, Mississippi (front) h Felicia P. Fields, v

Under the musical direction of Dan Wheetman, the singing is sensational. Under the direction of Randal Myler, the performers share personal strife glimpses between songs. A lesson in blues history is mingled in with humor. There is a great joke about a Chicago’s tourist definition of blues. For a genre established in segregation, these blues aren’t your grandma’s depression. Low Down Dirty Blues is high up sexy fun!

SIDEBAR: Two trains, two busses, an hour commute to get to Skokie to hear Chicago Blues. It’s ironic and sad. I live a ten minute cab ride from Kingston Mines. Low Down Dirty Blues reminded me how much I enjoy this type of music. If I don’t start going to blues clubs again, ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine.’

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

   Low Down Dirty Blues013

Running Time: Eighty minutes with no intermission

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REVIEW: Awake and Sing (Northlight Theatre)

Dynamic ‘Awake and Sing’ nothing to sling oranges at

 Nussbaum, Gold, Whittaker

Northlight Theatre presents

Awake and Sing

 

By Clifford Odets
Directed by Amy Morton
At the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie
Through Feb. 28 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

On Broadway, the original, 1935 production of Awake and Sing ran for 120 performances and fixed Clifford Odets‘ reputation as a playwright to reckon with. Chicago audiences were not so impressed. "They threw oranges and apples. I was hit by a grapefruit," recalled Group Theatre actress Phoebe Brand.

Nussbaum, Lazerine, Troy, Gold v From today’s viewpoint, it’s hard to see why — except that, if you still had the price of a theater ticket in Depression-era Chicago, you likely weren’t too sympathetic to the play’s anti-establishment attitudes. The message blurs somewhat in Northlight Theatre‘s powerful revival of this blackly humorous hard-times drama, yet the play still stands on the side of the working class, documenting the warring of capitalism vs. socialism, plodding resignation vs. revolutionary fervor, and long-range hope vs. live-for-today fatalism among them.

Titled for the line from Isaiah, "Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust, and the earth shall cast out the dead," the play recounts the Depression-era struggles of three generations of the Bergers, a lower middle-class, Jewish family, all crammed into a Bronx apartment. We come on them quarrelling over the dining-room table, clashing over politics and personal lives in a manner no less heated for its habitualness.

Central to nearly every dispute, Cindy Gold’s feisty, belligerent Bessie Berger dominates the play, much as her character does her family. Bossy and bitter, Mama Berger rules her clan with fiercely protective, unsentimental tough love. She pinches pennies and prods and castigates her household, doing as she believes she must, while proudly keeping her home spic and span, her children healthy and always a bowl of fruit on the table, if only apples. "Here without a dollar you don’t look the world in the eye. Talk from now to next year — this is life in America," she asserts.

In the production’s main flaw, John Musial’s overly spacious set gives us little impression of the family’s financial struggle. Bessie may be a notable balabusta, but there should be overt signs of shabbiness, patching up, making do, and the cramped confinement of the characters should be mirrored in a constrained space. Musial’s solution — an overhang above the stage — is annoyingly distracting to the audience in the theater’s higher tiers without giving us the sense of overcrowding it was meant to do.

Lazerine, Francis Francis, Whittaker

When her restless and unhappy adult daughter, Hennie, gets sick, Bessie’s first thought is for a doctor. When Hennie turns up pregnant, Bessie immediately begins conniving for a husband for her — running roughshod over Hennie’s own desires but intent on her greater good.

Likewise, she actively opposes her 21-year-old son, Ralph’s, romance with a penniless and orphaned girl — unknowingly allying with her father, Jacob. Though more sympathetic, Jacob also fears Ralph will barter away his potential for an early and indigent marriage, and tells him, "Go out and fight so that life shouldn’t be printed on dollar bills."

Bessie rages at her father and bullies him, yet makes him a home and brags about his brains to an outsider, the janitor Schlosser, portrayed by Tim Gittings. Veteran Chicago actor Mike Nussbaum plays a restrained Jacob, a feeble, old "man who had golden opportunities but drank instead a glass tea." He’s still fixed on Marxist idealism but always a talker, not a doer. He frets at his daughter’s domineering ways, but gives in to her, even as he urges Ralph to defiance.

Ralph wants to make something of himself, but in Keith Gallagher’s hands he’s a moony dreamer, like his henpecked father, Myron, prompting Jacob to tell Ralph, "Boychick, wake up!" Myron Berger, played with mousy bewilderment by Peter Kevoian, went to law school for two years but wound up spending his life as a haberdashery clerk.

Audrey Francis’ fitful Hennie is hard to fathom, giving us few clues as to what motivates her. It’s as if she gave up on life before the play began and just lives on bile. Since she doesn’t know what she wants from life, she’s a pushover for any strong personality, from her mother to Moe Axelrod, the cynical, one-legged war veteran and small-time racketeer who becomes a family boarder. Jay Whittaker’s alternately snarky and passionate Moe provides a keen counterpoint to the mulish and strident Bergers.

Gold, Gallagher Gallagher, Nussbaum at table, h

Straddling the Bergers’ inner and outer worlds is Loren Lazerine‘s smugly complacent Uncle Morty, Bessie’s brother, a well-to-do garment manufacturer, who hands out largesse to his struggling relatives as if he were giving a dog a treat. On the other hand, we have Demetrios Troy’s inchoate and inarticulate Sam Feinschreiber, the greenhorn who marries Hennie and who shows us Bessie’s innate charisma by being almost as devoted to his fierce mother-in-law as to his disdainful, unappreciative wife.

Director Amy Morton ably brings out the realistic depth of these characters, in all their clannish divisiveness, and effectively highlights Odets’ rich and street-smart language. There’s plenty to mull on in this intense production. Yet for all that Artistic Director B.J. Jones writes in the program of the 1930s economic crisis in which this play was born and the current one that inspired him to mount it, Morton’s vision focuses less on the stress and politics of the world events outside the Bergers’ apartment than on the overwrought family dynamics within it.

Perhaps she feared conservatives armed with fruit.

 

Rating: ★★★★

 

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REVIEW: Theatre at the Center’s “The Christmas Schooner”

Chicago’s Christmas Play

 THE_CHRISTMAS_SCHOONER_4

Theatre at The Center presents:

The Christmas Schooner

 

by John Reeger and Julie Shannon
Directed by Chuck Gessert
Music-directed by William A. Underwood
Thru December 20th (ticket info)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

I now have a new favorite holiday show, and I hope it runs as a yearly tradition in the Chicagoland area. The Christmas Schooner ran for many years at the Bailiwick Theatre and this year is currently at Theatre at The Center (an Equity theatre in nearby Munster, IN.)

CHRISTMAS_SCHOONER_2 The Christmas Schooner is a based on a true local story and written by Chicago’s John Reeger (book) and Julie Shannon (music.) The story involves a German family living in Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Michigan and working on the schooners that carry cargo to other ports along the lake. At home the Stossel family has a strong respect for the German traditions as well as generous hearts that feel compassion for those less fortunate. When a letter from Peter Stossel’s (Brandon Dahlquist) sister arrives, addressing her disappointment in not having a Tannebaum for Christmas and how many Germans in Chicago were left feeling homesick without their traditional Christmas symbol, Peter, the father and man of the family, feels a sense of duty to bring the people of Chicago Christmas trees.

Almost this entire story is told through the everlasting music. Shannon’s songs tell the whole story, including witty conversations between family members and acted as if reacting to real dialogue. It is a complex diverse score that moves with the changing tide in the play and allows the astonishing voices on stage to fill the house with the emotion of their characters.

The dialogue succeeds in bringing out the everyday humor in each situation, and Peter Kevoian plays it best as the Opa Gustav Stossel. Kevoian moved me in all direction, having me laughing throughout the play and crying at the end. Each performer created their own individual and, as a whole, the chemistry between each member of the family brings out the strongest sense of family spirit. The message of pride and sacrifice for others is brought out in action and the bonds of love and dependency in one another builds as they set out to please others less fortunate.

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As in all true stories, there are moments of disappointment and sadness, but the courage and strength of the Stossel family bring out the true meaning of Christmas. Their kindness reached people of all ethnic backgrounds and the joy they brought to others made their difficult journeys worth their sacrifice.

The Christmas Schooner is a timeless musical that should be seen by all those dwelling near the Great Lakes, and across the U.S. This is a truly American Christmas story of family relations, traditions and generosity in the melting pot of the Midwest.

Rating: ★★★★

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Review: “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” (Northlight)

Inishmore-art-banner

Leave it to Martin McDonagh to find the humor in terrorism.

The Irish playwright is infamous for the intense violence and large quantity of blood in his plays. In The Lieutenant of Inishmore he satirizes the constantly splintering Irish terrorist groups that infested Ireland in the 20th Century. The current production at Northlight Theatre exploits the gruesome spectacle of the play, splashing the stage with blood, brains, and plenty of other body parts.

inishmore1 The play evokes both Quentin Tarantino and John M. Synge. McDonagh exposes the Ireland tourists aren’t familiar with, steeped in ancient traditions and convulsed by political conflict. The lieutenant of Inishmore is Padraic (Cliff Chamberlain), a crazed Irish terrorist considered too bloodthirsty for the IRA. The play begins when the men responsible for cat-sitting Padraic’s furry friend find Wee Thomas squashed on the side of the road. While those with a dead cat on their hands try to figure out how to break the news, other “patriots” enter Inishmore, and the body count slowly increases.

McDonagh had a hard time finding someone to produce the play originally; many theatres found it too controversial. It has become one of his most successful plays to date, and director BJ Jones (who has also directed McDonagh’s A Skull in Connemara and The Cripple of Innishmaan) nails the Chicago premier of the dark comedy. The success of this production would not be possible, however, without special effects designer Steve Tolin, brought in from Pittsburgh. He presents a myriad of different ways to make blood spray and spurt from the actor’s bodies; it’s not often that the gore of a slasher flick is recreated on-stage.

inishmore2 Cliff Chamberlain is excellent as the bloodthirsty Padraic, balancing the craziness of a killer with the tenderness of man who loves his cats. Kelly O’Sullivan plays well against Chamberlain as Mairead, a 16-year-old fan-girl of Padraic and accurate shot with an air rifle. The funniest two of the show, though, is the duo stuck with the dead cat, the long-haired Davey (Jamie Abelson) and Padraic’s father, Donny (Matt DeCaro). The pair takes awhile to connect, but once they find it they are hilarious. John Judd, Andy Luther, and Keith Gallagher are menacing as a trio of Irish hitmen looking for Padraic. By the second act, the whole ensemble clicks together and the outcome is bloody and wickedly funny.

Jones and his team do a very precise job in finding the inherent comedy in the violence. The amount of bloodshed in the play is ridiculous, and the characters’ reasoning behind it is bizarre. With the help of Tolin and fight choreographer Nick Sandys, Jones arranges scenes that show the folly of extremist violence. And by committing to the dangerous reality the script presents, the cast can be comical while making the audience believe that they have real guns with real bullets.

McDonagh wrote the play in response to some very non-comical real events. In February, 1993, an English gas company was bombed, killing and wounding soldiers, civilians, and several children. As Americans, we have plenty of experience with the horrors of terrorism. By pointing out the ridiculousness of extremist beliefs, the play is incredibly relevant to our 21st Century world. And even though “the Troubles” in Ireland have calmed down since the 1990’s, terrorism is still alive there. In March, IRA dissidents assassinated several English soldiers near Belfast as they went to get pizza. The events depicted in Lieutenant of Inishmore are not as outlandish as they might seem at first glance.

Rating: «««½

Cast and artistic team rosters, including bios, can be found after the fold.

To see videos of this production, click here.

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