REVIEW: The Cabinet (Redmoon Theater)

The Cabinet’s surreal artistry returns

 Cabinet Redmoon 09

 Redmoon Theater presents

The Cabinet

 

By Mickle Maher; conceived by Frank Maugeri
Music by Mark Messing
 
Directed by Vanessa Stalling
Through March 7 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

The shadowy carnival showman Dr. Caligari, and his prime exhibit, the never-waking somnambulist Cesare, have been the stuff of nightmare ever since the 1919 premiere of Robert Wiene’s spooky silent film “Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari.” A highlight of the German Expressionist movement, the film contrasts light and shadow in eerie, tilted sets; heavy, exaggerated makeup and a spooky, suspenseful story line revolving around a series of mysterious murders.

Cabinet Redmoon Cabinet 02Redmoon Theater‘s The Cabinet alters the story somewhat — here, Cesare becomes the narrator — but remains true to the original’s skewed, black-and-white imagery; sinister, melodramatic characters and surreal, dreamlike pace.

This production (inspired, a press release says, by a request from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel when Redmoon performed there last Halloween) is all but unchanged from the 2005 production.

Neil Verplank’s magical, 11-by-14-foot, wooden cabinet with its angular doors and drawers once again serves as a unique stage, setting off the rod puppets, shadow puppets and hand puppets beautifully designed for the first production by Lisa Barcy and Scott Pondrom. Clever pop-up books by Laura Miracle and Laura Annis also work into the show. Redmoon’s artistry remains impeccable.

Hissing and spitting, Cesare’s narration, a creepy voiceover by Colm O’Reilly (the only speaking role), seems to come from an old-fashioned gramophone (designed by Christopher Furman) jutting out from one of the doors, while the words of Dr. Caligari are conveyed through rear-projected supertitles at the cabinet’s top. Original music by Mark Messing, in the style of early 20th-century silent-film accompaniments, adds to the dark, uncanny mood.

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Five ghoulish, grim-faced, androgynous puppeteers, fully made up, monocled and clad in black, white and shades of gray, slither through a variety of agile acrobatics onstage as they manipulate the more than 50 puppets through the cabinet’s 13 doors and drawers. Missi Davis, Sam Deutsch, Sarah Ely, Matt Rudy and Dustin Valenta contort themselves and pass puppets and props among themselves with clockwork precision.

The change of narrators does cut down the story’s suspense somewhat. Clearly, we’re supposed to sympathize with and fear for the unfortunate sleepwalker Cesare, the helpless tool of the evil doctor, caught in his endless nightmare — yet the mere fact that he’s telling the tale lets us know he comes out all right.

Haunting, and beautifully done, “The Cabinet” is no lightweight puppet show. Though whimsical in design, it feels ponderous and dirgelike — the hour-long piece seems to stretch much longer, as if the audience were caught in Cesare’s endless trance.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

Cabinet Redmoon 07Notes: “The Cabinet” is suitable for audiences 13 years old and up. Limited free parking is available at the theater.

At 10:15 p.m. Saturdays, Feb. 27 and March 6, Redmoon will host “Boneshaker,” an evening of music with DJ Red Menace, “environmental performances” and an open bar. Admission is free to ticketholders for the 9 p.m. performances of “The Cabinet” on those nights, $5 otherwise.

Scenes from The Cabinet, 2005

Review: A Red Orchid Theatre’s “Mistakes Were Made”

It was all my fault

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A Red Orchid Theatre presents:

Mistakes Were Made
by Craig Wright
directed by Dexter Bullard
extended through October 31st (but tickets)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Craig Wright, Emmy-nominated writer of the hit HBO series Six Feet Under, has created in Mistakes Were Made an entertaining and intelligently witty play, even as Oscar Nominee Michael Shannon is alone on stage throughout most of the play; his time spent engaging in frantic phone conversations, as well as therapeutic talks with his close companion Denise, his fish.

Mistakes Were Made3 Felix Artiflex (Michael Shannon) is desperately trying to put together a new play starring only the best actors and directors. He is frantically making promises beyond his control; doing anything he can to make this project a reality. Felix is a desperate man after losing someone close to him (his daughter?). We do not actually know much about his personal life, but we can tell by the way he works that there is a void in his life and a happiness that he is searching for. Felix has made some grave mistakes in his life, but he believes this new world premiere play about the French Revolution is his chance at redemption and achievement. In his attempts to fulfill all of his desires, he loses everything once again, but finds a small sense of happiness when he faces his own humility.

The stage is Felix’s office, and looks like an old fashion producer’s office from back in the 1970’s. I was surprised when I noticed that this play was taking place in relatively the present day, but considering the lack of money that sometimes comes from working in theatre, some offices no doubt still look like that in 2009. Tom Burch has designed the office littered with drama books, scripts and paperwork. Pictures of actresses and actors, that one assumes Felix has worked with in the past, are hanging on the walls. Pushed away, almost hidden amongst the paperwork and business memorabilia, are a few scattered kid’s toys showing us that there is or was a child that would come around his office.

The make-up artist Nan Zabriskie does an extraordinary job. She makes Shannon looked aged, not as an old man aged by years but by pressure and stress. Shannon’s cheeks look sucked-in, making it appear as if his skin hangs just a bit against his bone structure and his eyes look stressed like a man who hasn’t been able to relax for years.

Mistakes Were Made5 This is a piece that the audience can relate to; the fight to get others to share in your vision and the struggle to escape hardships and find better, more respectable days in the future. Craig Wright’s writing is wonderfully done, including the emotional complexity involved when working while your personal life sits in the back of your mind. Wright has written a variety of characters that Felix interacts with over the telephone creating gripping twists in the plot line, as well as a nice interjection of intelligent humor. Having some knowledge of theatre and classic plays does increase the impact of some of his jokes: since Felix is a theatre producer, the jokes are industry friendly.

The performance by Shannon lives up to the hype, as he portrays the driven attitude of a man nearing the end of his career, reaching for something that he can achieve and hold on to. I felt as if I had an idea of what had happened to Felix and how his life had reached this point. Shannon gave Felix depth and a personal past through his display of tense emotions. We have a sense that he is missing the love and respect of someone in particular without it having to be specifically said. The constant busy-ness of jumping from conversation to conversation is made light and humorous with the pleasant interruptions by the secretary, Esther, played by Mierka Girten.

Even with this gripping performance, the play was too long for a basically one man act. While watching one of the best solo performances I have seen the man next to me feel asleep, and I began to get a serious leg cramp. I recommend this show because it is a rare opportunity to see an outstanding actor perform an intelligently written piece just ten feet away from you. It is an amazing experience to watch Michael Shannon capture the whole essence of Felix’s character, although an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission is just a little too long to watch even this man.

Rating: «««

Mistakes Were Made is playing at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 North Wells St., Chicago, Thursdays – Sundays and has now been extended through October 31.

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