REVIEW: Over The Tavern (Noble Fool Theatricals)

Noble Fool’s “Over the Tavern” recalls a bland 1950s

TheTable

Noble Fool Theatricals presents:

Over the Tavern

By Tom Dudzick
Directed by John Gawlik
At
Pheasant Run Resort Mainstage Theater, St. Charles
Through March 28
(more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Noble Fool Theatricals, whose last production played to the Ed Sullivan generation with the holiday revue “Plaid Tidings,” gives the over-60 set another nostalgia fest with their latest, Over the Tavern. Unfortunately, this bland production offers little for the rest of us.

TheDance Playwright Tom Dudzick’s semi-autobiographical look back at life in a working-class Catholic family, ca. 1959, has a strong nostalgic appeal for seniors who recall their childhood in that era, particularly those brought up on the Baltimore Catechism by stern-faced, black-draped nuns with clickers in one hand and punishing rulers in the other. The Pazinski clan — Chet, Ellen and their four kids — live over the family tavern, here denoted by a large lighted Hamm’s Beer sign at stage right. Designer Ian Zywica’s 1950s apartment set has an authentic, if too-affluent feel.

The irascible Chet runs the not overly-successful bar, with unreliable help from his never-seen Pop, and takes his frustrations out verbally on his family. He’s better than his own father because he doesn’t have a drinking problem and he doesn’t hit his kids, but — as his wife offends by reminding him — he also doesn’t hold them first in his thoughts. By paying their tuition to Catholic school, he considers he’s done his duty, and it’s the nuns’ job to shape their character.

He’s so short-tempered that his youngest son, 12-year-old Rudy, literally prays to Jesus for Dad to be in a good mood. Rudy, a bright young wiseacre, isn’t content to follow along placidly where his older siblings and parents have gone before him. In between doing Ed Sullivan impersonations, he takes a literal look at what the nuns are teaching, and questions not only their word, but the religion itself.

If you’re under 60 and didn’t go to Catholic school, what does “Over the Tavern” have to offer you? While there’s a certain universalism to Rudy’s religious rebellion, ordinarily the charm of this play lies in fast and furious repartee and engaging performances from cute kids. Yet there’s little furor in John Gawlik‘s version, which seems slow-paced and cleaned up.

RudywithNun One point of this play is to showcase a high-pitched, rough-and-tumble 1950s that wasn’t like its TV depictions — Rudy’s prayer includes a request to turn his father into Robert Young, the mild-mannered star of the sitcom “Father Knows Best.” Yet Scott Cummins’ reserved Chet makes us wonder what Rudy’s afraid of.

Stacy Stoltz plays his wife as a kind of understated Mary Tyler Moore, resigned, rather than fiery. Most disappointingly, Renee Matthews, normally a vibrant performer, seems listless and stiff as Sister Clarissa, the termagant nun determined to school Rudy in his catechism at all costs.

Picking on a 13-year-old makes me feel meaner than Sister Clarissa, but while Gabriel Harder makes no missteps in the central role, neither is he so engaging as to keep us captivated with Rudy’s prankishness. Rudy needs more piss and vinegar.

As Rudy’s less-bright older brother, 16-year-old Alex Adams is also restrained, though he does give us some convincing moments of teenage angst. Katrina Syrriss seems colorless as the boys’ sister.

The only stirring performance is that of Daniel Velisek, who does a credible and compelling job with the rather limited role of Georgie, their mentally challenged brother.

Rating: ★★½

TheRuler

Review: Babes With Blades’ “Macbeth”

Babes With Blades Macbeth a sword-rattling good time

Review by Paige Listerud

Macduff (Amy E. Harmon) and Macbeth (Kathrynne Wolf) face the final conflict. They dare do all that may become a man in this Babes With Blades all-female production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth–from vying for honor, to scheming unholy murder; from wavering in the face of evil, to charging recklessly into carnage; from chafing under oppressive surveillance, to engaging in out-and-out rebellion; from enduring unspeakable loss, to succumbing, as one’s life drains to nothing.

Directed by Kevin Heckman of Next Theatre for this production, Babes With Blades is an all women’s theater troupe. Their mission is to provide women with stage combat skills, to expand powerful fighting roles for women in drama, and to undermine “the preconception that strength and power are inappropriate for women.” Yet their work also helps to preserve and update the craft and discipline of stage combat for all actors, which often goes by the wayside when theaters downsize casts and drastically cut scenes. Unfortunately, removing traditional battle and fight scenes from plays like Macbeth, while understandable for the modern, minimalist, or cash-strapped production, can have the unwanted effect of diminishing the gravitas of the characters’ choices.

Throughout history, women have fought and participated in battle, often donning men’s clothing to get into military service. Theater history also has its famous women warriors, such as Esme Beringer and Ella Hattan, aka Jaguarina. Staging the traditional combat scenes places physical demands upon actors that few may be prepared for today. To speak one’s part is one thing, to speak it after a full scene of running around, swinging a sword, is quite another. “Most of these women have been with the troupe for years,” said Delia Ford (Duncan), when I asked about getting into shape for the play. “But I’ve just come out of retirement, so I really felt it.”

Murderer (Stephanie Repin) and Lady Macduff (Rachel Stubbs) struggle to the death. The other challenge for companies like these is finding the theater space that will support battle. La Costa is a little hole-in-the-wall theater that one could walk by but for the sandwich-board sign demarking its location, but it has enough stage area plus plenty of routes for exits and entrances. The troupe rushed to find it in 48 hours after losing their previous theater space in Pilsen.

Very likely, what teamwork was needed to produce these battle scenes has strengthened the cohesiveness of this ensemble cast. In fact, their collective paranoia under Macbeth’s gory, volatile regime is performed so convincingly that, by the time we see Macbeth (Kathrynne Wolf) at Dunsinane, we feel the suffocation of tyranny as palpably as Hitler’s last days in the bunker. Here, the young girl players from The Viola Project are cast to greatest effect, as children dressed in uniforms and thrown into battle because Macbeth’s thanes have all fled to his enemies.

The most dramatic scene may be of Lady Macduff (Rachel Stubbs) taking up arms to defend her home and child from Macbeth’s assassins.

Although, in the end, the showdown between Macbeth and Macduff (Amy E. Harmon) was so anticipated and so well executed, it received its own applause.

LadyMacduffkillsm What is the theatrical impact of seeing women fight for themselves, their loved ones, their country, or their ambitions? Be prepared to see, by contrast, a still forceful yet vulnerable and human Lady Macbeth (Nika Ericson). Unlike productions that suffuse Lady Macbeth with sexual and demonic power, both Ericson and the direction show a woman as much under the influence of the Witches (Rachel Stubbs, Melanie Kibbler, and Gillian N. Humiston) as her husband. After the disastrous banquet wherein Banquo’s ghost appears, during which Macbeth freaks out enough to brandish his knife in the guests’ faces, Macbeth slices his hand and pours his blood into a cup. At that moment, Lady Macbeth realizes she has no control over the evil she has unleashed. It is a moment of pure horror.

Furthermore, the scenes between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth potently render, in agonizing increments, their relationship’s progressive disintegration. This production does not overplay this couple’s sexuality, yet illuminates their essential, integral partnership, before, during, and after their downfall.

Kathrynne Wolf’s Macbeth is also vulnerable. While this vulnerability brings Macbeth’s character closer to Hamlet’s, especially when vacillating over murder, it differs by exposing his lack of a moral center. It is this lack of center, more than fear or astonishment, which prevents him from accosting the Witches just like Banquo does. Stephanie Repin, as Banquo, conveys the honor and judicious caution of a morally stable foil.

MacbMacdClinchsm The rub for this production remains Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s most famous speeches. These are always troublesome challenges for every actor because they are, for lack of a better word, accursed by comparisons to past performances. They are operatic in nature. Like arias, the soprano and tenor are expected to step downstage and blow the audience away. That being said, the limited mastery of such critical moments makes this Macbeth an uneven, if exciting production. Particularly Lady Macbeth’s opening “invocation” speech–I question the effectiveness of the director’s choice to have the Witches take over whole lines of Lady Macbeth’s. Far more effective was having the Witches chant specific words within Macbeth’s lines, to emphasize their encroachment on his mental state.

The action and pacing never flags, however. One can be assured of a thrilling demonstration of women’s strength and ensemble unity in the delivery of this classic tale about the battles within and without the human soul.

The Viola Project introduces young girls to Shakespeare and trains them in both male and female roles. The young actors playing in this production trained in a stage combat workshop in 2006 sponsored by both Babes With Blades and The Viola Project.

Rating: ««½

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