Review: Soul One (Clock Productions)

  
  

A meaningless trip through time

  
  

The cast from 'Soul One', being produced by Clock Productions at Natiional Pastime Theater

 
Clock Productions presents
  
Soul One
   
Written by Travis Hughes
Directed by Jessie Stratton
at National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway (map)
through April 30  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

There are some new plays that can benefit from readings, workshops and multiple productions. Even if they don’t quite work at first, they can continue to grow upon their strengths while fixing their weaknesses. And then, there are scripts that possibly need to be completely rebooted or scrapped all together. Travis HughesSoul One may unfortunately fall into the latter. Jessie Stratton’s direction of this new play with Clock Productions does it no favors. While there are some sparks of talent in this cast and the design, in the end, Hughes’ script provides a hollow jumbled journey that falls somewhere between bad sketch comedy and a 3am History Channel reenactment from the 90’s.

Travis Hughes’ muddled script is centered on a troubled rock star, Jack Straw (Ryan Hughes). Straw is tormented by his producer pressuring him to create a more “pop sound.” His solution is to fly off to the Caribbean where he hires three prostitutes, who just so happen to be able to sing and play instruments on command. The women in Hughes’ play are almost always of the submissive objectified type. From here, things get strange—but not in a fun way. Straw seemingly seeks help from a crackpot therapist (Chad Ramsey). Ramsey’s character, using “Hypnotherapy for Dummies,” puts Straw under hypnosis. This takes Straw back in time to the caveman era. After this, he travels to pseudo versions of Ancient Greece, Rome, the American West and the future. Each one of these scenarios is more nonsensical and underdeveloped than the previous. It appears Hughes’ purpose for this convention is to teach Straw the lesson that he should love his wife, but there is nothing of substance written for these characters to care whether he does or not.

The play opens as though this may be another character study on a troubled artist. We even get a heavily produced mock Behind the Music video. However, this play goes from overplayed to pointless. Hughes opts rather for one cringe worthy joke after another. The sophomoric humor falls flat and advances no story. Stratton’s direction halts the pacing to near unbearably slow. At points, literally nothing happens on stage for a good amount of time. There’s another moment where we simply sit and watch Ramsey blow bubbles in silence for almost a full minute. More salvageable, there are a handful of interchanges between characters that could almost hold their own in a more sketch comedy setting. The main issue with these moments in the play is that nothing is seemingly ever at stake. Ryan Hughes is not believable and is an extremely bland rock star with none of the eccentricities. Straw is written to be the world’s greatest rock frontman, yet, he doesn’t seem to ever sing, only speak lyrics in a rhythmic monotone. Ryan Hughes is doubled by his brother, Travis Hughes, as the “time travelling version” of the character. Hughes comes off much better as an actor in these segments than he does as the writer of frequently flat dialogue.

There is very little rock music played live for a play that is largely billed as a story about a rock star. However, Nikos Brisco demonstrates some skillful guitar playing that could have benefited from more stage time. Also, the female actors clearly have some wonderful talent that isn’t getting tapped in this production, particularly a charming Gemma Crowley. However, the women are consistently utilized as the butt of dull and somewhat misogynistic jokes and are never given an ounce of dimension. Stratton’s video design is polished, but the video-centric director relies too heavily on the projections. Also notable, costume designer Sienna Macedon pulls off her job admirably, providing the only clear indication of what time period we are in.

In addition to script flaws, the overall production lacks clarity and appears under-rehearsed with no polish to timing and pace. Ultimately, the play suffers from an identity crisis on all ends in regards to what type of play this is. There exists a lack of focus on any particular action or storyline. Ramsey, as the psychiatrist, states at the end of the two hours, “Time is meaningless.” Apparently, the same goes for the audience’s time spent.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

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Soul One continues at National Pastime Theater through April 30th, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, and Sundays at 3pm.  No Performances on Easter Weekend. Tickets are $15 and may be purchased online or by calling 773.327.7077.  More info at clockproductions.com.

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REVIEW: A Klingon Christmas Carol (Commedia Beauregard)

  
  

Fun, fresh retelling of Klingon holiday classic

   
  

A Klingon Christmas Carol at the Greenhouse Theater Center

   
Commedia Beauregard and the Klingon Assault Group presents
 
A Klingon Christmas Carol   
   
By Christopher O. Kidder and Sasha Walloch
Directed by Christopher O. Kidder
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
Through Dec. 19  | 
Tickets: $32  |   more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Charles Dickens’ enduring holiday ghost story, "A Christmas Carol" has been translated into scores of languages since he wrote it in 1843, but by far the oddest has to be the tongue in which Minnesota-based Commedia Beauregard stages its surprisingly successful production at Greenhouse Theater Center in Lincoln Park. A Klingon Christmas Carol is performed almost entirely in Klingon, the artificial language invented by linguist Marc Okrand for the "Star Trek" movies.

037_A Klingon Christmas Carol - Commedia Beauregard by Mr. Guy F. WickeProjected English subtitles and narrator provide context for those of who don’t speak the language, and the storyline has been adapted somewhat. Klingons don’t celebrate Christmas, so a festival called the "Feast of the Long Night" substitutes, a time when the warlike race holds tournaments to uphold clan honor and put their young through a grueling coming-of-age ritual. Scrooge is not only the antisocial skinflint he is in Dickens’ original but also a coward — a plot better fitting the context of the warrior culture of the Klingons, as developed in the TV series and films.

While there are plenty of in-jokes and references to delight the "Star Trek" buffs, you don’t have to know much about Klingons or the series to follow along. Klingons have evolved some since I last paid attention. When the 1960s-era "Star Trek" TV series began, during the height of the Cold War, Klingons resembled Russians. For the films, they got a remake to be more exotic and ugly, a transformation that was only explained much later in the canon. Except for the old-style Ghost of Kahless Past (Zach Livingston), the play presents latter-day, bumpy forehead Klingons.

Written by Christopher O. Kidder and Sasha Walloch and translated into Klingon by Kidder, Laura Thurston, and Bill Hedrick (who also designed the Klingon heads), with help from Chris Lipscombe, (who attended the opening clad in full Klingon regalia), the play has been performed in Minnesota for the past three years. This marks its Chicago premiere.

   
023_A Klingon Christmas Carol - Commedia Beauregard by Mr. Guy F. Wicke 002_A Klingon Christmas Carol - Commedia Beauregard by Mr. Guy F. Wicke
klingonxmas_262 by Mr. Guy F. Wicke 013_A Klingon Christmas Carol - Commedia Beauregard by Mr. Guy F. Wicke

I’m not qualified to comment on how good the translation is — they could be repeating "inka binka" for all I know — but the show works well on many levels. A broad acting style, coupled with the unknown language and masklike makeup give the show an intriguing similarity to Kabuki, the traditional Japanese theatrical genre. The adapted story fits into that convention as well. It’s convincingly foreign and yet familiar. Kevin Alves shines as SQuja’, the Scrooge character, cringing and ducking and crawling under tables.

Sara Wolfson, who plays the pointy-eared Vulcan narrator offering context, strikes me as a bit too animated and expressive to be one of the supposedly emotionless race exemplified by Leonard Nimoy, but it’s a minor flaw. The rest of the large cast all play multiple roles ably, though the actors sometimes rely too obviously on the floor-height teleprompters they’re using for cues.

Jeff Stoltz’s costumes would win prizes at any "Star Trek" convention. I’d have liked to have seen more exciting fight choreography and a less sketchy set, and the subtitle operator needs to keep pace better with the action.

Overall, though, A Klingon Christmas Carol provides a fun, fresh approach to an old classic. If you ever enjoyed "Star Trek," you’ll want to see it.

   
 
Rating: ★★★   
  
 

029_A Klingon Christmas Carol - Commedia Beauregard by Mr. Guy F. Wicke

All photos by Guy F. Wicke

 

 

  
  

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REVIEW: Blood Wedding (Oracle Theatre)

 

A Spooky Spanish Time at Oracle

 

 

Blood Wedding - Oracle Theatre 2

  
Oracle Theatre presents
   
Blood Wedding
   
Written by Federico Garcia Lorca
Directed by
Ben Fuchsen
Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway (map)
thru Nov 20  |  tickets: by donation  |  more info

Not often do classic canonical plays get featured as a Halloween fright fest. Yeah, ghosts and witches show up in many lists of characters, but they’re usually too heavily laden with symbolism and plot development to cause any nightmares. So Oracle Theatre is going out on a limb this year with their Halloween offering, Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding. The results are mixed. Although Lorca’s lush language evokes plenty of chills, director Ben Fuchsen’s production lacks clarity and cohesiveness.

Lorca, one of the key purveyors of tragedy in the 20th Century, lived a pretty tragic life himself. A gay writer in Spain between the wars, he found himself spurned by men like Salvador Dali as well as facing the stresses of immense critical and commercial success at a young age. He ended up face down in a ditch somewhere, silenced by Franco’s Fascists in 1936. Yet his unsettling plays, many of which seem directly inspired by Sophocles or Euripides, have enjoyed popularity the world over. Blood Wedding is Blood Wedding - Oracle Theatreone of the best known. It follows a pretty standard storyline: longstanding feuds between families, nuptials, infidelity, murder, etc. What makes the piece stand apart is Lorca’s gorgeous poetry and his inclusion of vengeful supernatural forces in this very human story. The Moon, angry that man shuts their windows at night (and therefore shun him), decides to join Death in the manhunt for the runaway bride and her lover. Something much heavier than simple jealousy is going on.

Oracle mines the otherworldly elements of Lorca as much as they can. Instead of a small scene in the latter half of the play, Fuchsen places the Moon (a nearly-nude Justin Warren) and Death (Sasha Walloch clad as a flamenco dancer) in almost every moment. The duo brings a sinister vibe to the whole piece. They conjure all the spookiness in the production, wielding bloody, spine-chilling noises, and frenetic movements.

As their supernatural characters, Warren and Walloch take on all the supporting roles as well. This is where it everything starts to get muddled. We start wondering who is who—is Walloch playing Death now, or a servant woman, or Death pretending to be a servant woman? The concept is engaging, but the execution needs retooling.

The production could really benefit from a plot synopsis in the program. This is due to the fact that the cast focuses on creating atmosphere over storytelling. With its myriad of metaphors, Blood Wedding’s mood is intoxicating, but it’s impossible to stay engaged in that world when you’re just trying to keep up with the story. The style also fluctuates—some actors (like Sarah Pretz, who plays the ominous Mother), stick with heightened realism. Others, Alexander Gerber, for example, who portrays the unwitting (and slightly goofy) Groom, choose to face the audience and speak their lines with an expressionist slant. Both work for the piece, although the realism is far more grounded. The problem is that the stylization isn’t consistent, causing more plot and character confusion.

When you just sit back and let the show flood over you, there’s some great stuff. James Ogden’s gloomy set, consisting of several lacy screens, is appropriately creepy and smartly used. The statuesque Pretz commands the tiny Oracle stage like a captain on a ship. And there were two solid moments that terrorized me. Most of all, Lorca’s tremendous poetic skill, translated here by Michael DeWell and Carmen Zapata, is delicious and heartwrenching all at once.

Oracle is no stranger to the Halloween show. They’ve put up some well-received haunted house-style experiences in the past. I’m not completely sold Lorca can be repackaged as a Halloween treat, but the cast definitely puts forth tons of effort. But with more plot clarity, the production could earn a whole lot more screams.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

Blood Wedding - Oracle Theatre - poster