Review: Steel Magnolias (Saint Sebastian Players)

     
     

Warmth, camaraderie dominate Steel Magnolias

     
     

SteelMagnolias1byJohnOster

   
Saint Sebastian Players presents
  
Steel Magnolias
   
Written by Robert Harling
Directed by Steven Walanka
at
St. Bonaventure Church, 1625 W. Diversey (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Something happens once one enters Saint Sebastian Players’ theater space at St. Bonaventure Church. First, there’s the sign over the stairs on the way down—“The best theatre in a basement in the universe.” Then, there’s the palpable hominess, the obvious, open responsiveness transmitted between audience and cast. Clearly, SSP is a theater company that has fostered a strong, grounded sense of community over its 30-year run. That they would choose to produce Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias fits their M.O. to a tee. Friendship and community that sees people through the rhythms of the years probably resonates more here in this space than any other in town and Chicago is simply full to the brim with small theaters that offer an intimate experience. But something about the gentle care Steven Walanka’s direction takes with each scene between the women of Truvy’s (Tricia Rogers) hair salon suggests the intimacy of family–or people who know and accept you better than family.

Steel Magnolias - Saint Sebastian Players 034Those ladies who show up to Truvy’s are legendary: Annelle (Kaitlyn Whitebread), nervous, naïve and on the run from her criminal husband; Clairee (Deborah Rodkin), widowed and searching for a life beyond being the mayor’s wife; Shelby (Margaret Scrantom), always pushing herself past the limitations of diabetes; M’Lynn (Jill Chukerman Test), her stoutly pragmatic mother; and Ouiser (Kate O’Connor), cantankerous, idiosyncratic and unstoppable. Saint Sebastian’s cast runs the risk of having every minute of their performance gauged against the 1989 movie. Yet, they succeed in creating a genuine world of their own.

Walanka’s direction starts each scene at a comfortable, neighborly pace, which allows his actors to dip into quiet, confidential moments with each other, before building to surprise or confrontation. For the most part, the cast follows the comedy’s natural rhythms organically. The testy, if loving, relationship between Shelby and her mother, M’lynn, stretches out over years of bright hope for Shelby’s future with her new husband to dire health consequences stemming from choosing to bear a child against the advice of doctors. In the meantime, Chairee and Ouiser gamely get on each other’s nerves and Annelle goes from scared runaway to party girl to born again Christian. It’s capable, sassy Truvy that provides the safe, gossipy space that is their home away from home.

     
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That’s not to say that SSP’s production is perfect. Opening night found a couple of actors starting cold and only warming to their parts by the second scene. Also, while a low-key approach to building relationships between these characters definitely has its pay-offs, there’s equally the danger of some scenes’ moments dragging. But, all in all, this cast projects the essence of camaraderie between women. Furthermore, Scrantom brings the right blend of independence and vulnerability distinctive to Shelby, while Chukerman Test brings her role as M’lynn home with simple and convincing interpretation of her frustration and rage over Shelby’s death, as well as her endurance. Overall, the production communicates the vitality of these characters and they communicate it to an audience that fully, wisely, appreciates its substance, as well as the laughter.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

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Photos by OCA Photography

        
       

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Review: Arms and the Man (Saint Sebastian Players)

  
  

Wrap your arms around this play!

  
  

Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw - presented by Saint Sebastian Players

  
Saint Sebastian Players presents
 
Arms and the Man
  
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Jim Masini
at
St. Bonaventure Church, 1625 W. Diversey (map)
through March 13  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I always look forward to what I consider classics. I love Shakespeare, Wilde, and yes George Bernard Shaw. It’s the stuff that I had to read and write reports about in high school. Shaw has a special place in my heart for his character development, especially the female characters. In Arms and the Man, the female characters are wise, witty, and multidimensional, especially in light of the time period portrayed.

Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 05The actors in the Saint Sebastian Players’ production are pitch-perfect in this production directed by company member Jim MasiniKelly Rhyne plays the role of Raina Petkoff with coquettish aplomb and a dash of spicy feminism. Yes – feminism, which manifests itself in many way; here as a fiery, girlish, woman of power. Rhyne is a radiantly beautiful young actress, perfectly cast as the aristocratic Raina with her glowing ivory skin and delicate features. She looks as if she were really related to Melissa Reeves, who plays the archly funny matriarch Catherine Petkoff, whose comic timing and subtle physicality is a hallmark of Shavian comedy (also at home in the work of Oscar Wilde).

Drew Longo as Captain Bluntschli is reminiscent of Giancarlo Giannini in Wertmuller’s “Seven Beauties”. The exhaustion from battle, the hunger, and the desperation all play across Mr. Longo’s face – and he is hysterically funny. The dialogue is given the full weight of irony that is so essential to a comedy or farcical presentation of high society.  And the scene where Longo gobbling up the chocolates from Raina’s bureau is poignant and funny because of how well the characters interact.

Another brilliant bit of casting is Victoria Montalbano as the maid Louka. Ms. Montalbano gives great face to the all-knowing servant. Shaw illustrates the hypocrisy of elite society with the lower classes. The coercive sexual mores are turned on their heads in this work as Louka holds the aces. What a feminist she is! Her character shuns the dreary and dependable suitor, Nikola, played by the wonderful Chris McGillivray. The life of being the manservant’s wife who is taken behind the topiary is no life for her. Mr. McGillivray is also poignantly funny as the schlumpy manservant, having a great face for comedy, as perfectly witnessed as he offers the blue satchel around the room of characters.

        
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This production also stars two of the finest fall guys that I have seen in a while. Greg Callozzo as Major Petkoff is near genius in the puffed up buffoonery of nouveau riche in epaulets. The hair and the expressions fit the character’s obliviousness to what is hitting the fan and the electric bell in his home. The dialogue about bathing is just choice. Charles Askenaiser as Major Sergius Saranoff is wonderfully farcical as well. He portrays the silliness of the privileged officer braggart exquisitely.

Arms and the Man resonates to this day as a portrait of the futile nature of military war, the war between social classes, and the wars of the sexes. The human imperative to dominate obscures meaningful purpose and puts up blocks to true connection.

Emil Zbella’s sets are quite lovely and authentic-looking for turn of the 19th century. The brocades and floral patterns are fun and well designed. I loved the oh-so-special library that Lady Petkoff speaks of in proud tone and the look on her face when she pushes the electric bell is just great. The costumes (Tina Godziszewski) are fun and also appear quite authentic for 1885. There are bustles, furs and parasols (I want that fur night cloak that Raina wraps in when the bedraggled Captain Bluntschli invades her dainty bedchamber!). The wigs and hair are worthy of an operatic wig master. When I saw the actors after the show it was hard to tell who was who. That is a sign of a great production where the actors disappear into the characters on stage. They were just as gracious off stage. Go see this play. It is fun and goes way beneath the surface. The more the world changes-the more it stays the same.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
   

Arms and the Man - Sebastian Players - setArms and the Man continues through March 13th at Saint Bonaventure Parish at Diversey and Ashland n Chicago. This play is part of the 30th Anniversary season for theatre company. Visit the website for more information www.saintsebastianplayers.org


Artists

 

Cast: Kelly Rhyne* (Raina Petkoff), Victoria Montalbano* (Louka), Charles Askenaizer (Major Sergius Saranoff), Greg Callozzo (Major Petkoff), Drew Longo (Captain Bluntschli), Chris McGillivray (Nikola), and Melissa Reeves (Catherine Petkoff).

Production: Jim Masini (director), Emil Zbella (set designer), Tina Godziszewski  (costume design) Mansie O’Leary (costume design) Kalin Gullberg (lighting design), Leah Cox (dramaturg), Adam Seidel* (set construction manager), Don Johnson* (sound design), Al Cerkan* (stage manager), Mary Whalen* (properties manager), John Oster (photos), Nancy Pollock* and Jill Chukerman Test* (co-producters).

*Saint Sebastian Players member

  
  

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REVIEW: Cash on Delivery (Saint Sebastian Players)

 

Spinning Plates

 

Cash on Delivery - Saint Sebastian Players 2

   
Saint Sebastian Players present
   
Cash on Delivery
   
Written by Michael Cooney
Directed by
Jonathan “Rocky” Hagloch
at
St. Bonaventure Church, 1625 W. Diversey (map)
thru November 14  |  tickets: $10-$15   |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Identity theft is usually not the stuff of combustible comedy. But when it’s tied up with and results in mistaken identities, mixed signals, ill-timed interruptions and the rest of the detritus of classic farce, confusion can be critically comical. Michael Cooney, son of Ray (“Run for Your Wife”) Cooney, clearly learned from his father all the literal ins and outs of vintage farce with its slamming doors and self-fulfilling folly. The big difference here is that Cash on Delivery is no bedroom farce (though there’s some genuine confusion about supposed gay or cross-dressing activity). No, here the impetus is an elaborate and perilous fraud perpetrated by Chicago landlord Eric Swan against the Social Security Administration. It seems that the S.S.A. has inundated the opportunistic Eric with claims for a former tenant that, with a little scamming and false filings, mushroomed into $65,000 per year’s worth of multiple deceptions for unemployment, disability, medical and many other false benefits that this unemployed husband just didn’t have to courage or rectitude to decline.

Cash on Delivery - Saint Sebastian Players Of course, living a lie is a lot more taxing (so to speak) than sticking to the simple truth. It all threatens to elaborately unwind as Mr. Jenkins, a nerdy S.S. investigator, comes by for two simple signatures for some required paperwork. That’s all it takes for Cooney to unleash a flood of desperate cover stories as one lie contradicts another and Eric’s house of prevarication comes slowly tumbling down over the next 140 minutes. To pull off the crazed complications (which recall the excesses of Weekend with Bernie grafted onto Lend Me a Tenor) that eventually yield to the straightforward truth and a plausible happy ending requires the usual tour de force of timing, mugging, slow burns, costume switches, double faces, switcheroos, cover-ups, and other comic machinery.

Jonathan Hagloch’s ten actors pull off the shenanigans fairly well, with Greg Callozzo spinning the plates without dropping any (a metaphor taken from the old “Ed Sullivan Show”): Flagrantly and with multiplying mania, his Eric tries to keep his stories straight, with inept help from his upstairs tenant (busy Doug Werder). It helps that the other characters are credulous enough to be taken in by their sham show, most particular an increasingly hysterical Angela Bullard as Eric’s tormented wife, Michael Wagman as the nebbishy S.S. investigator, and Lyn Scott as his battleaxe supervisor. Jim Masini gets battered into unconsciousness as Eric’s venal uncle. The others play an overly helpful family crisis counselor, an officious undertaker, the neighbor’s frazzled fiancée, and a marriage counselor who adds his own befuddlement to this toxic mix.

With silly stuff like this, it’s more important to play it quickly than smoothly. Only in the overlong second act, where the playwright seems to be showing off his ability to keep the lies separate but equal, does the plot thicken into more turgidity than hilarity. But the audience never stops laughing throughout and that’s how you know a farce has force. You don’t have time to wonder why the S.S.A. makes house calls or a social worker can instantly arrange a funeral on the spot. The jokes come faster than any saving skepticism that might stop them in their tracks. Of course, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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Theater Thursday: Chekhov’s Shorts (St. Sebastian Players)

Thursday, February 25th 

Chekhov’s Shorts

Saint Sebastian Players

1625 W. Diversey, Chicago

chekhovshortsHelp celebrate Chekhov’s 150th birthday! The event kicks off with a food and drink reception, then an informal presentation by the producer of the show, followed by the production and a post-show Q&A with all the directors and members of the cast. Chekhov’s Shorts is a collection of short pieces penned for the Russian vaudeville circuit and other venues with each piece directed by a different director. Featuring farce, parody, slapstick, and the battle of the sexes (his favorite theme), you will leave this evening with an entirely new appreciation of Dr. Chekhov.

Event begins at 6:30 p.m.
Show begins at 7:30 p.m.

TICKETS ONLY $25 

For reservations email TheaterThursday@SaintSebastianPlayers.org with the subject heading "Theater Thursdays."

Chicago theater openings/closings this week

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show openings

 

1985 The Factory Theater 

All the Fame of Lofty Deeds The House Theatre of Chicago 

Becoming Ingrid Rubicon Theatre Project

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

Cooperstown Theatre Seven of Chicago

The David Bowie Hepzikat Funky Velvet Flarney Solstice Spectacular Live!…From Space (David Bowie’s 1977 Christmas Special Network Edit) New Millenium Theatre

Democracy Eclipse Theatre

G.I.F.T. Collaboraction Theatre

Little Women Circle Theatre

Macbeth Dominican University Performing Arts Center

MassNorthwestern University 

Plaid Tidings Noble Fool Theatricals

Spanish Strings McAninch Arts Center

Stars in the Morning Sky UIC Theatre

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant A Red Orchid Theatre

 

CHICAGO_HOLIDAYS

show closings

 

As You Like It Loyola University

The Black Duckling Dream Theatre 

Book of Days EverGreen Theatre Ensemble 

C’est La Vie Light Opera Works 

Dinner for Six Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Fantasticks Porchlight Music Theatre 

Fedra: Queen of Haiti Lookingglass Theatre 

Graceland Profiles Theatre

The Last Unicorn Promethean Theatre

The Mercy Seat Profiles Theatre

Pump Boys and Dinettes Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Spoon River Anthology Saint Sebastian Players

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Treasure Island Lifeline Theatre

Two by Pinter Piven Theatre Workshop

Chicago theater openings/closings this week

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show openings

Abrose Bierce: Tales and Times Lincoln Square Theatre

Arsenic and Old Lace Northwestern University

Book of Days EverGreen Theatre Ensemble

Death Toll Corn Productions

Estranged Men at Seven Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Flowers About Face Theatre

Frankenstein The Hypocrites

Holes Merle Reskin Theatre

Hunchback Redmoon Theater

Macabaret Porchlight Music Theatre

The Magic Ofrenda Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Silk Road Cabaret Silk Road Theatre Project

Spoon River Anthology Saint Sebastian Players

These Shining Lives Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

 

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show closings

Alice in Wonderland Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

American Psyche or a Breath of Fresh Care Gorilla Tango Theatre 

Animal Cracker Goodman Theatre    (our review here)

The Last (and Therefore Best) Comedy Show on Earth Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Marvelous Wonderettes Northlight Theatre

 

openings/closings list courtesy of League of Chicago Theatres

Chicago Theater – Show openings this week

Chicago - My Kind of Theater Town - cropped

show openings

1940s RADIO HOUR – Citadel Theatre

AURA – Redtwist Theatre

BAD HABITS – Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus

DISAPPEARING ACTS – Piven Theatre Workshop

THE GRAPES OF WRATH – Infamous Commonwealth Theatre

THE HISTORY BOYS – TimeLine Theatre

THE ILLUSION – Northwestern University Theatre

MACBETH – Babes With Blades

MARK’S GOSPEL – Mercury Theater

MUSING – Tympanic Theatre

OF MICE AND MEN – Steppenwolf Theatre

OLD TIMES – Remy Bumppo Theatre

PAT PATTON – Cornservatory

THE REAL THING – Saint Sebastian Players

THE SAUCE JAM – Gorilla Tango Theatre

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE – Big Noise Theatre

THE WEDDING SINGER – Rising Stars Theatre