Review: The First Ladies (Trap Door Theatre)

  
  

Play proves potty language can be poetry

  
  

Nicole Wiesner, Dado, Beata Pilch - Trap Door Theatre - The First Ladies

  
Trap Door Theatre presents
    
The First Ladies
   
Written by Werner Schwab
Translated by
Michael Mitchell
Directed by
Zeljko Djukic
at
Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland (map)
through April 16  |  tickets: $10-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

I don’t think it is a coincidence that playwright Werner Schwab hails from the same nation as Sigmund Freud. Both are utterly obsessed with notions of sex and bowel movements. Human orifices attract their attention, especially when something is going in or coming out one. And both enjoy venturing to the deep, dark crevices of the human mind, those mental closets where our skeletons are stored. In short, Austria must be one hell of a place.

This is what I have deduced after seeing Trap Door Theatre‘s brilliant production of Schwab’s The First Ladies. The flawless work is a wicked and twisted comedy about the futile dreams of the lower class. The language is poetic without pretension, the acting is solid as stone and the set design is exquisitely detailed—and all this from a play that proudly boasts several lengthy monologues about scooping excrement out of a toilet with one’s bare hands.

Nicole Wiesner - Trap Door Theatre - The First LadiesThe play, told in two acts, is about three lower class ladies, each of whom sports her own unique dream of fulfillment and satisfaction. The first act is mainly exposition.

Erna (Dado) is the prude. She is a teetotaler and a woman of God. She is proud of the fur hat and color television she found in a garbage dump, and she is quick to judge the other ladies for their lack of restraint. We learn she has a son who has an affinity for drinking and violent outbursts.

Meanwhile, Greta (Beata Pilch) is the saucy one. She dons faux-snakeskin pants and a series of gold chains. While Erna eagerly watches televised communions, Greta slouches in her gaudy armchair, legs akimbo, looking bored out of her mind. She is the type of lady you would neglect to call a lady. She has an estranged daughter who lives in Australia that she hasn’t heard from in nearly a decade.

And then there’s Marie (Nicole Wiesner), sweet and simple Marie. She is the Lenny of the bunch, prone to wild hand gestures and goofy facial expressions. She is a people pleaser at heart, but the way she chooses to please is unorthodox to say the least. Her profession is to unclog toilets. But she does it with gusto and bare hands. Because of her imbecile nature, the other two ladies are quick to overlook her.

The second act focuses on each lady’s dream. The three women take turns sharing bits and pieces of their fantasies, which all take place at the same fancy nightclub. Erna dreams of being swept off her feet by the local butcher; Greta envisions being sexually pleasured by a tuba player and Marie finds treasures at the bottom of toilets. It’s incredibly absurd, but the conviction of the actors, the adeptness of the direction and the cleverness of the script make it work.

Beata Pilch - Trap Door Theatre - The First LadiesAll the actresses do outstanding jobs, but special accolades must be paid to Wiesner, whose portrayal of Marie the simpleton is absolutely stunning. She truly embodies this character, as evidenced by her performance’s unwavering consistency. And the end, where Marie delivers a powerful, metaphor-laced monologue, is a prime example of technical acting skill.

TUTA Theatre‘s artistic director Zeljko Djukic directs The First Ladies with the skilled hand of a master. There is a lot of give and take in this play, with the women exchanging focus regularly. Djukic makes sure the hand off is smooth and the energy never drops. Also, changes in tone and mood are handled in an organic matter so as to be unforced yet still effectively jarring.

Schwab’s word choice and sentence structure (as translated by Michael Mitchell) is wholly unique. He certainly practices the economy of language, using precision to create concise sentences impregnated with significant meaning. It’s a staccato form of poetry that hits the ear in what I would describe as musical cacophony. It’s not necessarily pretty, but its ugliness has a certain beauty.

The First Ladies is an unsettling laugh-out-loud comedy that proves high art can have elements of the low brow. If you’re easily sickened by graphic talk of bathroom by-products, toughen up and see this play.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Nicole Wiesner - Trap Door Theatre - The First Ladies

The First Ladies continues through April 16th with performances on Thursday-Sunday at 8pm.  Tickets are $10 on Thursdays and $20 on Friday and Saturdays.  For more information and tickets, go to trapdoortheatre.com.

All photos by Michal Janicki.

  
  

Continue reading

REVIEW: Cupid: Plugged (The Cupid Players)

This Cupid needs to plug some holes

 

The Cupid Players

  
The Cupid Players present
  
The Cupid Players: Plugged!
  
Created by The Cupid Players
Directed by
Brian Posen
at
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont  (map)
through October 2  |  tickets: $18   |  more info 

Review by Barry Eitel

Relationships. Thanks to relationships, we have Michael Bolton, Shakespeare, and reality TV. It seems all art, maybe even our whole existence, boils down to human interaction. There’s bucketloads of emotions to mine.

The Cupid Players, the masterminds behind Cupid Has a Heart On (got to love those puns) which enjoys an open run at iO, know how to rip out the funny side of love and bare it on stage. Their newest venture, Cupid: Plugged! (got to love that name recognition), is part musical revue and part sketch comedy with a rock concert twist, including roadies. The Players cram a ton of material in the hour-long show. The final setlist is scattershot and disjointed, which is a shame considering the comic talent singing their hearts out.

Each number is completely different from every other one. This works perfectly on Youtube, but not so much in a live stage show. Most of the songs revolve around that crazy little thing called love (and/or sex, and/or desperate loneliness). The boys fall for the girls, the girls nag the boys for leaving towels around the home, one girl wakes up next to a really fat guy after a particularly drunk night. But the songwriters also stray from the theme, and a tune is thrown in about a young man torn between Judaism and bacon. Not that the random injections are unfunny, but they muddle the entire experience. It feels like they needed to fill a few more minutes.

cupid players logo The show is set vaguely in the Reagan era, with plenty of legwarmers, ripped t-shirts, and transition music pulled from heavy metal radio. Yet, someone sings a diddy describing his iPhone. The women claim that they are wives and mothers, but they look like they’re a couple of co-eds headed to 80’s night at the local bar. Some characters would take the show to the next level, even if they were incredibly superficial and just a way to string the songs together. But as it is, Cupid: Plugged! has no string.

The cast, which created the show, has plenty of insight into romance, love, and lust. Sometimes the concepts are simplistic, but these are usually the funniest parts. One of the sharpest moments involves Ranjit Souri sitting alone on a park bench warbling about how “sex would be fun.” A fair amount of the lyrics are duds, but on average the songs inspire much more laughter than yawns.

It helps that the cast is having a ball performing. Through all the dancing, guitar riffs, and synchronized hand movements, they keep the energy high and receptive. Some props have to be paid to Sam Lewis’ guitar antics and Billy Sullivan’s stomach-shaving. Far and above the best part of the show, though, is a 70’s pop duet between Jill Valentine and Tim Soszco, complete with ridiculous wigs and sunglasses. I’ve never actually rolled in an aisle, but I came pretty close.

Soszco and Valentine’s performance was so awesome because they created characters. If director Brian Posen and his merry crew of musical comedians came up with some plot or even an overarching idea, it could be comic bliss. The Cupid Players are without question talented; they don’t just perform sketch, they sing it. But Cupid: Plugged! feels like the Players tossed a bunch of jokes in a blender, dumped the contents out on-stage, and then set the whole thing to music. This isn’t a comedy album, it’s a live show. We want cohesion.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

cupidPlayers

Director Brian Posen is joined by Carisa Barreca, Ashley Bush, Andrew Graves, Sam Lewis, Israel Pederson, Tim Soszko, Ranjit Souri, Billy Sullivan, Jill Valentine and Amanda Whitenack.  The band includes Sam Lewis and David Hymen.