REVIEW: Ring around the Guillotine (Chemically Imbalanced)

Time travel for the jilted

 

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Chemically Imbalanced Theater presents
 
Ring Around the Guillotine
 
Written by Chris Tawfik and Anthony Ellison
Directed by Anthony Ellison
at
CI Theater, 1420 W. Irving Park (map)
through May 23rd (more info)

By Katy Walsh

The cure for being dumped? Finding love in an unexpected place and time… like a prison 600 years ago. Chemically Imbalanced Theater presents Ring Around The Guillotine, a lustful comedy about time travel. In modern day, Tyler is drinking away her break-up. Her supportive coworker gives her a gift of an antique ring and rose. Putting on the ring, Tyler is transported back in time to Magical France. The country is in duress. The queen and king are mourning the death of their daughter and lamenting the ambitions of their son, Carvier. Tyler beams into Carvier’s jail cell, who has been sentenced to the guillotine for killing his love, Princess Camille. Tyler is Camille’s splitting image. Ring Around The Guillotine is a soap operatic comedy with new age mystique against a renaissance backdrop.

This cast knows how to have a good time. They’re trying to not only crack up the audience, but also each other. Emily Harpe (Tyler) is hilarious as a messy drunk rebounder. Ashley Thornton (Beth) is the career-minded pizza manager with amusing fixations on her employees and work policies. Ross Compton (Randy) animates his scenes with chuckle-worthy delivery. Guillotine-licking Mat Labotka (Felipe) is the creepy prince playing over-the-top queen to Connor Tillman’s (Chester) straight man. Tillman’s dead pan slaps the punch line. The entire ensemble, with collective bios boasting extensive improv training, is a riot!

cic From the moment of arrival, you’re plunged into two stories. The contemporary story is relatable. Jilted girl, weirdo manager, pizza – got it. The period piece story is more challenging. It’s elegantly delivered by Jo Scott (Queen) and Martin Monahan (King), but the significance of what is occurring isn’t quickly digestible. Anthony Ellison directed and co-wrote Guillotine with Chris Tawfik The basic story is interesting and the dialogue is witty. At the same time, however, some of the initial scenes in Magical France don’t explain the set up clearly. The back and forth time travel adds to the delayed clarity. Scene changes go dark; a few of the transitions seem unnecessarily long. But this is allayed by the fact that energetic Cyndi Lauper soundbites fill the transitions, so “She Bops” provides a necessary distraction from an over-long break. Pop music, gags galore, people making out – Chemically Imbalanced Theater has invited you to party with them. Plus it’s BYOB and they’ll provide the entertainment.

 

 
Rating: ★★½
 

Running April 9-May 23. Fri & Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm. Tickets $15. Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

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REVIEW: Living Quarters (Strangeloop Theatre)

This gem is exquisitely polished

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Strangeloop Theatre presents:

Living Quarters

 

by Brian Friel
directed by Thomas Murray
through March 14th (more info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Thomas Murray is a long time scholar of Brian Friel, the Irish playwright best known in America for Dancing at Lughnasa. The Mid-America Theatre Conference named him an Emerging Scholar for his research on Friel. How happy for Chicago’s theater community that his turn as director crafts the subtle and balanced execution of an earlier, more experimental play of Friel’s, Living Quarters: after Hippolytus, now at Trap Door Theatre. Small and simply produced by Strangeloop Theatre, it is the very definition of excellence.

living-quarter Written in 1977, Friel ventured away from overtly political theater toward using meta-theatrical devices and non-linear storytelling. Through Sir (Jillian Rafa), the play’s own deconstructionist, the drama examines a critical day in the life of an Irish family. Living Quarters shows strong Chekhovian influences. Murray’s superbly balanced cast transposes the shifts from action to reflection on the action with all the smoothness of liquid silk, making the transitions seem effortless and familiar.

Commandant Frank Butler (James Houton) is being honored at the pinnacle of his military career—a career that, more often than not, absented him far from family life. Daughter Helen (Danni Smith), returning from her life in London, joins sisters Tina (Kelley Minneci) and Miriam (Kathryn Bartholomew) in preparations for the big day. Their estranged and somewhat derelict brother, Ben (Martin Monahan), also rejoins the family in celebration, while the deconstructive storytelling unveils to the audience his illicit affair with his father’s new, young wife Anna (Shannon Bracken).

In the course of reviewing precarious family dynamics, the play floods with memories–joyous, convivial memories and, inevitably, dark and regretful ones. Heavy among these are the family’s memories of the commandant’s former wife, a strict and exacting invalid with a severe case of class prejudice. Past incidents between Ben, Helen, and their mother reverberate into the present, demonstrating their power to renew long buried pain. Smith especially shows adept grace at portraying deep filial love, while suggesting a sensitive and fragile mentality underneath.

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As the betrayed commandant, Houton is nothing less than profound and immaculately precise. Besotted by the freshness of his young wife, soaring jovially in his hour of glory, the revelation of his son’s cuckoldry brings him down like Icarus. His performance is perfectly complemented by Paul Tinsley’s warm and friendly family alcoholic, the Chaplin, Father Tom. Friel’s politics still manifest themselves in his subtle digs at these two pillars of Irish society, but they are humanely tempered by each and every character’s mournful wish for things to have happened differently.

Plus, even the most tragic families have their happy moments. Friel places these in shimmering contrast to the sorrowful ones and Strangeloop’s production follows that delicate silver thread like Gospel. Much like Eugene O’Neill’s work, Living Quarters is a paean to regret—only Friel’s lighter touch makes us realize how deeply regret is colored by time and memory. So whose memories are these, anyway–set down, note by note, in the book Sir carries around onstage? The question hangs suspended in the air like a cloud, like a moment of grief that won’t go away.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

Featuring: Kathryn Bartholomew, Shannon Bracken, Ross Compton, James Houton, Kelley Minneci, Martin Monahan, Jillian Rafa, Danni Smith and Paul Tinsley.

With scenic design by Glen Anderson, costumes and props by D.J. Reed, lighting by Leigh Barrett and sound by Jesus Contreras.

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