Review: Iphigeneia at Aulis (Lights Out Theatre)

  
  

Ritualistic elements explore value and purpose of faith

  
  

Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)

  
Lights Out Theatre presents
   
   
Iphigeneia at Aulis
   
Written by Euripides
Directed and Adapted by Josh Altman
at Collaboraction, Flat Iron Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

More than just a little hippie feeling prevails in Lights Out Theatre’s production of Euripides’ Iphigeneia at Aulis. That vibe comes, partly, from Collaboraction’s theater-in-the-round space, which seats its audience on pillows at various levels to the stage floor. The other contribution comes from Josh Altman’s cast of barefoot players, complete with hearty drum elements, which make their Greek army stranded on the shores of Aulis look more like a summer of love gone wrong. Love gone wrong isn’t a bad choice of words, since Helen, wife of Menelaos (Michael Hamilton), has run off to Troy with Paris. Now the cuckolded husband and his brother, Agamemnon (Kipp A scene from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)Moorman), must amass their armies to get her back. But even fatherly affection doesn’t stand a chance once the army’s prophets proclaim that Artemis demands the sacrifice of Iphigeneia (Anne Leone), Agamemnon’s daughter, to get the whole enterprise off to sea.

Earthy and casual may be the look but nothing’s sloppy about the cast’s indelible care with Euripides’ language (adaptation also by Altman). Moorman, particularly, wrings every ounce of sympathy, depth and miserable humanity from his guilty and tormented father figure while never casting doubt on his position as commander-in-chief of Greece’s forces. Partnered with a rich and resonant performance by Barbara Figgins as Clytemnestra, Moorman holds the dramatic space through which Euripides savages dubious religion, the insanity of war and the dangerous power of demagoguery—political concerns of an Athens demoralized by the Peloponnesian War 2500 years ago, still finding their resilient parallel today.

While most of Altman’s younger cast members securely back up the principal leads, Iphigeneia’s shrill desperate pleas to Agamemnon’s for mercy doesn’t allow much play or range. Of course, the girl’s about to die, yet Leone needs to find the nuance of Iphigeneia’s mental state to make her anguish more watchable and compelling.

     
Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti) Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)
Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti) Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)

Neither does Iphigeneia’s sudden 180-degree turn toward being the willing victim convince–and for this play, it very badly needs to. Euripides makes a habit of putting his characters through 180-degree turns. He assigns several to other characters in this play alone. It almost seems like a perverse test for the actor, to instantaneously supply their character with psychological veracity in absolute contradiction to what they felt a moment ago. But having begun without much depth toward losing her life, becoming the Greek’s willing sacrificial lamb also proceeds without the intense psychological subtext that makes Iphigeneia’s transformation credible.

At least the ritualistic elements of Altman’s direction, bracingly and cunning bolstered by Hamilton’s drumming and Ben Chang’s violin, close Iphigeneia in Aulis with fundamental questions about the value and purpose of faith. By accepting an absurdity—that her death will bring freedom to Greece and immortality to her–Iphigeneia is able to transcend her misery and embrace her end with serene, courageous, almost godly composure. But should such things be believed? Figgins carries the evening with her exit clouded in doubt and suspense.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Members of the "Iphigeneia at Aulis" cast, including: Ben Chang, Anthony DeMarco, Barbara Figgins, Michael Hamilton, Adam Hinkle, Anne Leone, Anna Lucero, Kipp Moorman, and Andrew Nowak.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)

All photos by Serena Valenti

     

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REVIEW: Reefer Madness (The Brown Paper Box Co.)

 

Hilarious musical romp through the wide world of weed

 

Reefer Madness - Brown Paper Box Co 003

   
The Brown Paper Box Co. presents
   
Reefer Madness
 
Book and Lyrics by Kevin Murphy
Music by Dan Studney
Directed by M. William Panek
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western (map)
through October 24  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

The 1938 propaganda film “Reefer Madness” sought to teach the ignorant American masses of the dangers of “marihuana”, including but not limited to grand theft auto, sexual deviance, and murder. Paranoid and misinformed to the extreme, the film’s absurd plot and hilarious depiction of drug users have made it a cult classic, and Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney’s musical spoof is a wonderfully over-the-top  expansion of the film’s best ideas, mainly the claims that marijuana turns people into sex-crazed baby-killing socialists.

Reefer Madness - Brown Paper Box Co_ 006Directed by M. William Panek, The Brown Paper Box Co.’s production of Reefer Madness is at its best during group numbers, when the cast fearlessly tackles the offensive subject matter with vocal gusto. During the smaller numbers, some of the actors struggle to adjust to the absence of the group, and the singing loses precision and clarity.

The musical revels in gratuitous sex and violence, and the exaggeration of these elements highlights the ridiculousness of the movie’s plot, the tragic tale of high school students Jimmy Harper (Tyler Davis) and Mary Lane (Anna Schutz). Under the false pretense of swing dance lessons, drug pusher Jack Stone (David Geinosky) invites Jimmy over to the Reefer Den, where his life will be changed forever.

When Jimmy takes a hit of marijuana for the first time, rather than experiencing lethargy and munchies, Jimmy life descends into a mess of unbridled orgies, Jesus hallucinations, and running over old men with Mary’s car. While Davis’ jonesing can get a little grating to watch at times, he and Schutz showcase impressive vocals, and the two actors have no problem transitioning from adorable sweetness to devilish insanity. Some of the high notes could have more power behind them, and there needs to be a better balance between the volume of the principals and the chorus behind them, but Jimmy and Mary’s tragic romance is a constant source of humor throughout the production.

Reefer Madness - Brown Paper Box Co 004 As the denizens of the Reefer Den, junkies Ralph (Michael Gardner), Sally (Jillian Kate Weingart), and Mae (Chelsea Paice) have some of the best moments in the show as stumble around the stage, humping and smoking whatever they can. Wiley is fantastically manic as Ralph, and is extra creepy as Sally’s baby in one disturbing interlude. Paice gets one of the best ballads of the show, and while she handles the lower register well, the big money notes are lacking in energy and support. Weingart has a similar problem, but she makes up for it with her powerful belting and fierce sexuality.

Reefer Madness is a musical that is not afraid to offend. Whether it is through explicit sexuality or graphic violence, the show pushes the boundaries of musical comedy, taking it to hilariously dark place. Brown Paper Box Co.’s production needs a little more polish to be truly memorable, but the actors tackle the material with dedication and courage. Despite the lows, this musical never comes down from its high.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
  

Reefer Madness - Brown Paper Box Co 002

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REVIEW: AjaxAntigone (The State Theatre)

State Theatre brings guts and talent to successful production

Ajaxantigoneproductionstill1of11

The State Theatre presents:

AjaxAntigone

By Sophocles
Adapted by
Tim Speicher and Ross Matsuda
Directed by Tim Speicher
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 621 W. Belmont
through April 3rd
(more info)

review by Barry Eitel

The men and women that put together The State Theatre, a company that delivered their first ever production just last year, radiate ambition. It is ballsy choice for a brand new theatre company to tackle anything Greek—the Classics are some of the best-known dramas of all time, and they can really, really suck if done poorly. But as if Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone" putting up just one millennia-old play wasn’t a big enough risk, adapter/artistic director Tim Speicher mashed-up two Sophoclean tragedies. With the straightforward title AjaxAntigone, Speicher’s amalgamation shreds up and stitches together SophoclesAjax and Antigone. With anything this daring there is bound to be hiccups and missteps, but the State’s bravado pays off and solidifies the company as a powerful new voice in Chicago theatre.

This isn’t some ancient version of those crossover episodes of CSI where one team travels to another’s city; Ajax never officially meets Antigone. Both stories are told concurrently, with a lot of thematic overlap. Antigone, if you recall, is one of the first obstinate teenagers in literature, disobeying the laws of the king in order to bury the body of her dishonored brother. Ajax is a more obscure play that revolves around the warrior Ajax, hero of the Trojan War. Basically, he slaughters some innocent livestock in a stroke of madness and then has to deal with the consequences. Speicher’s creation cuts, pastes, deletes and inserts from Sophocles. Never skimping on the physical, the State’s production plays out Ajax’s battle with the sheep, something that would never be shown in Mediterranean amphitheaters. Teiresias is cut from this Antigone. Also, Speicher’s version plays up Antigone’s story and plays down Creon. This is a sharp divergence from Sophocles’ play, where Creon is the real focus, not the titular teenager.

The grand Greek chorus is pared down to just one woman, the sparky Sarah Sapperstein, who does a majestic job of navigating us through both plays as well as portraying some of the smaller characters. Both plays are performed by an ensemble of six, with a lot of doubled-casting. Kyra Morris is a rich Antigone, stoic and proud—she makes the character a tragic hero. Chris Amos does double duty as Odysseus and Creon with charm and passion. Mark Umstatd’s shirtless Ajax overpowers the space with his yelling. This mars several scenes and draws the audience out of the play.

Ajaxantigoneproductionstill10of11 Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone"
Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone" Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone" Ajaxantigoneproductionstill9of11

Speicher’s treatment of both plays is layered and lyrical, although there are missteps. African-American spirituals are used throughout, but they do nothing but distract from the stories on-stage. Kylie Edmonds’ costumes are appropriately distinguished, while the set is less complete. The scenic design consists of two mobile boxes that are used to create a myriad of environments among walls draped with white cloth. The abstraction is great, but the boxes beg more aesthetics and less functionality. And although Mbo Mtshali’s choreography is striking and spot-on much of the time, the production also has sloppy moments: actors get too close to the audience, and in one fit of madness, the barefoot Ajax accidentally stepped on the “blade” of his “sword” (made of wood). Forgivable offenses, but one has to think that they could be avoided, given the precision of the beautiful and demanding choreography.

The State’s audacity is evident in all aspects of the production. On opening night, they actually encouraged the audience to flip open their phones and tweet, text, snap, and update away (although I think Patti Lupone’s thoughts on the subject were still ingrained in most people’s heads). The State Theatre presents itself as bold, new, and edgy—AjaxAntigone proves that the company is good as well.

 

Rating: ★★★

Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone"

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