Review: Woyzeck (The Hypocrites)

     
     

True to form, Sean Graney creates another ‘beautiful murder’

     
     

Erin Barlow (Kathë), Ryan Bollettino (Herr Doktor) and Geoff Button (Woyzeck) in Woyzeck at The Hypocrites

   
The Hypocrites present
  
Woyzeck
  
Written by Georg Büchner
Directed by Sean Graney
Music by Kevin O’Donnell
at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $21-$28  |  more info 

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

When Georg Büchner dropped dead in 1837, he left behind a work-in-progress that has since been a powerful draw for artists and academics…and an even bigger pain in the neck for editors. The original script for Woyzeck–that’s an assumed title, by the way; Büchner never had the chance to choose one himself–was a scribbled hodgepodge of fragments and scenes chronicling a layman’s transformation into a killer written on unnumbered pages.

Lindsey Gavel (Marie, foreground) and Sean Patrick Fawcett (Capt. Hauptmann, background) in The Hypocrites production of WOYZECK By Georg Büchner, adapted and directed by The Hypocrites Artistic Director Sean Graney.  Photo by Ryan Bourque.Performing the text as-is is not an option, at least not a compelling one. Producing this soldier story takes a heavy-hand, a willingness to make a directorial mark, and some serious cojones.

Enter Sean Graney.

The Hypocrites artistic director has developed a knack for bold theatre and ranks among the most exciting directors working in Chicago. Graney possesses the ability to unearth the hearts of classic texts and translate them to contemporary audiences by employing an arsenal of visceral elements. In this Woyzeck, he plays maestro–soundscapes, a dumb show, and music by Kevin O’Donnell help forward the plot and give body to heady expressionist ideas. His adaptation streamlines what Büchner left meandering. His rewrites, rearrangements, and omissions are always with clear purpose and are always for the better.

The title tragic hero, played by Geoff Button, is given the full Job treatment from his country, his colleagues and his wife. Subjected to inhumane medical experiments, degrading work conditions and an ungrateful spendthrift spouse, Woyzeck descends into desperation. His misery is amplified by the production’s wry, cruelly detached sense of humor–his child is literally presented as dead weight: a rock.

Visually, it’s captivating. Tom Burch’s set design juxtaposes nature with biohazard plastics in a vast and functional playing space. Dangerous elements get the richest, most appealing colors–appropriate for a show whose characters find beauty in destruction.

The Hyprocrites allow us to pity the tormented protagonist while alienating us just enough to objectively consider the morality of his and our resentment toward his adulteress wife (Lindsey Gavel). Added repetition in dialogue and gestures conveys the soldier’s ability to endure anguish for the people he loves, and suggests a breaking point may be the only solution for escaping the hellish loop of giving-without-return; suggests, but doesn’t dictate. The specific tragic end Graney chooses for his doomed young man leaves some questions open-ended. Unlike in Büchner’s text, they’re the right kind.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Sean Patrick Fawcett (Capt. Hauptmann) and Geoff Button (Woyzeck).

All photos by Ryan Bourque

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Review: Leaving Iowa (Fox Valley Repertory)

     
     

‘Leaving Iowa’ backs its rustic corniness with heartfelt characters

     
     

Diane Dorsey (Mom), Don Forston (Dad), Katherine Banks (Sis), Alex Goodrich (Don) in 'Leaving Iowa' by Tim Clue and Spike Manton - directed by Rachel Rockwell

   
Fox Valley Repertory presents
  
Leaving Iowa
       
Written by Tim Clue and Spike Manton
Directed by Rachel Rockwell
at Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles (map)
thru March 13  |  tickets: $29-$39  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

As a boy, I endured my share of 6-hour road trips to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, a pint-sized rural town where my sister attended college. I can’t say the experience left me with playwrights Tim Clue and Spike Manton’s fondness for the Hawkeye State, but I can appreciate the sentiment behind this charming family comedy.

Leaving Iowa is straight-up Americana, full of the diner waitresses, Civil War re-enactors, helpful motel clerks and hyped-up mechanics we like to believe still pepper the Midwestern landscape. The narrative is familiar but sturdy: Don, a city boy (Alex Goodrich), returns home to take care of family business and finds himself reconnecting with his roots in the process.

'Leaving Iowa' by Tim Clue and Spike Manton - directed by Rachel Rockwell, playing at Pheasant Run Resort by the Fox Valley Repertory.

On a mission to scatter his father’s ashes, he is hit with a wave of nostalgia for his family car trips. The action leaps back and forth between Don’s narration (richly performed, which is no easy task with light-hearted material), his present day quest, and flashbacks to his vacation adventures with Mom (Diane Dorsey), Dad (Don Forston), and Sis (Katherine Banks). The childhood scenes are largely dominated by broad comedy—the kind you’d expect in a self-rated PG play about nostalgia and making things right. At times, jokes about incessant backseat wailing just become incessant wailing, but mostly the gentle humor earns at least a smile.

The real heart of the show lies in Don’s relationship with his father. For a play that ends its first act with an ensemble chorus of “This Land is Your Land” set against a waving flag, director Rachel Rockwell touches on some unexpectedly honest, complicated ideas about growing up. When adult Don tries to have a long-distance phone call with his father, boredom and guilt fill the pauses in between banal sports chatter and monosyllabic responses. Dad, planted in front of a television, silently hurts. The son lacks the will to make the connection his old man needs.

The same goes for a later lament about opportunities passed.

This father-son duo has convincing chemistry. Forston is loveable, and Goodrich fills the All American Boy bill with a sense of earnestness and relatable imperfection. Wacky bits about navigating in the bygone collapsible-map era are swell, but Rockwell never lets us forget there are real humans in that car. The show contains substance underneath its silliness—themes that are affecting and brave.

In other words, Leaving Iowa gives us the apple pie without making us stomach too much gooey, fluorescent cheese on top.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
     
  

Stop Fighting!  Diane Dorsey (Mom), Don Forston (Dad), Katherine Banks (Sis), Alex Goodrich (Don) encounter a vacation car fight in 'Leaving Iowa' by Tim Clue and Spike Manton - directed by Rachel Rockwell

Artists

Cast: Diane Dorsey (Mom), Don Forston (Dad), Katherine Banks (Sis), Alex Goodrich (Don), Sean Patrick Fawcett (Character Man), Anna Carini (Character Woman), Torey Adkins (Male Understudy), Géraldine Dulex (Sis Understudy), Valerie Glowinski (Mom & Character Woman Understudy)

Production: Rachel Rockwell (Director), Tim Clue & Spike Manton (Playwrights), Mike Tutaj (Video Designer), Yousif Mohamed (Lighting Design), Elizabeth Flauto (Costume Design), Kevin Depinet (Scenic Design), Miles Polaski (Sound Design), Kristi J. Martens (Stage Manager), Laura Eilers (Performance Assistant Stage Manager), Mark Johnson (Replacement Stage Manager), Jesse Gaffney (Properties Master)

***NOTE: Valerie Glowinski has taken over role of The Character Woman***

Leaving Iowa, Rachel Rockwell, Tim Clue, Spike Manton, Fox Valley Rep

REVIEW: K. (The Hypocrites)

 

Allen goes coo-coo for Kafka

 

 

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The Hypocrites present
   
K.
   
Written and Directed by Greg Allen
at
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through November 28   |  tickets: $14-$28  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

At the last three productions I’ve seen put on by The Hypocrites, arguably the local leader in avant garde storefront, there’s been some blatant reference to the originating text. In Sean Graney’s stage adaptation of Frankenstein last year (our review ★★), the pages of numerous copies of Mary Shelley’s book were pasted on The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen001the back wall. In No Exit (review ★★★), Inez splattered toothpaste all over the set and tacked on leaves from Jean Paul-Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. And in their season opener K., translated from “The Trial”, a semi-finished novel from that proto-surrealist genius, Franz Kafka, characters read, toss around, and swear upon a tiny copy of Kafka’s chilling story. The stage adaptation and direction are the handiwork of Neo-Futurist Greg Allen, a master of metatheatricality. The production unravels in the last few scenes, but the darkly funny story is an enthralling journey. One wonders, considering that Kafka died before finishing “The Trial” (or any novels, really), if this is sort of the point.

Allen first penned his adaptation in 1996. “K.” is Josef K., Kafka’s unwitting protagonist in his slamming critique of law, order, and bureaucracy. “The Trial” is pretty much an expressionist legal thriller, with less crime and more paperwork. K.’s monotonous life is disrupted when he is arrested one morning, but not detained and never told what offense he committed (the police don’t even know). The rest of the piece follows K.’s long, occasionally action-packed struggle to get his trial to go to trial.

 

The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen005 The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen002

Allen cherrypicks from Kafka’s plot. He hits important characters and scenes, but he streamlines the piece. This works well for the adaptation; K.’s Sisyphean legal journey is easy enough to follow and digest. Allen then plugs the gaps with a self-awareness that shocks the story into a stage life, one that is very aware that it is theatre. The actor playing K.’s father, Sean Patrick Fawcett, must yank a program from the audience to prove to K. that he is, in fact, K.’s father. A painter sells works with titles like The Hunger Artist, The Penal Colony, and The Castle. And there’s a full-on Metamorphosis moment. These choices tap into themes that both resonate with the original text and go beyond it: the nature of narrative, and reality, for that matter.

Brennan Buhl’s portrayal of K. syncs perfectly with Allen’s vision. He straddles the script, keeping one foot in the story and the other in our world. Sometimes he is charmingly aloof, making it seem like he’s part of some dark improv set—ready to joke and riff off whatever happens to him. At other crucial points, he snaps into the plot’s reality with devastating somberness. Buhl’s performance is stripped of sentimentality; his whole world is funny and inconsequential until the agonizing futility of his situation beats him into submission.

The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen003There are a few times when the Allen’s meta-theatre meddling fails to produce the fruit, the ending being the prime example. K. has a possibly fatal encounter with his arresting officers, but the final outcome isn’t revealed, and Buhl sucks in the audience at the last moment….except we don’t know where we’re going. We get a sort of “what happened?” moment, and I was very confused as to what actually happened. Allen’s tight focus slackens here and the moment clogs up the heavy theatrical metaphor flowing through the piece.

Buhl is joined by a great supporting cast who all jump into a massive gumbo of personas. They do great things with Chelsea Warren’s set, which features plenty of doors to shift around, open, and slam. There’s an energy present here that isn’t seen often today, one that doesn’t mock the fact that theatre is happening, but lovingly accepts the art form while pushing its limits. Even with K.’s misfires, Allen has created riveting, intellectual theatre.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Brennan Buhl - Hypocrites Theatre - Greg Allen

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REVIEW: The Farnsworth Invention (TimeLine Theatre)

Timeline production rises above Sorkin’s flawed script

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TimeLine Theatre presents
 
The Farnsworth Invention
 
written by Aaron Sorkin
directed by
Nick Bowling
at
TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map)
thru June 13th  |  tickets: $25-$35 |  more info

reviewed by Oliver Sava

What better way to end the most successful season in Timeline’s thirteen year history than with the Chicago premiere of Aaron Sorkin’s tribute to exploration, The Farnsworth Invention? Their last Chicago premiere, The History Boys, had a six month sold-out run unlike anything the theater had ever seen, sweeping the Jeff FarnsworthInvention_172 Awards and kick-starting a season that would see Timeline exploring new possibilities in the wake of commercial success. Their regular performance space occupied by the oft-extended History Boys, Timeline ventured into a new venue, mounting an acclaimed revival of All My Sons (our review ★★★★) at Greenhouse Theater Center, and the theater’s first venture into South Africa, Master Harold…and the Boys (our review ★★★½), would lead to a business partnership with Remy Bumppo and Court Theatre for Fugard Chicago 2010.

At the end of a landmark year, The Farnsworth Invention is not only a celebration of Timeline’s consistency as a company, but a promise to explore the possibilities of modern theater. Nick Bowling directs a polished production that moves like clockwork, with an ensemble that understands the emotional currents underneath the witty repartee and academic jargon of Sorkin’s writing, giving the production a heart beyond what is written in the problematic script.

Sorkin criticizes current broadcasting practices as he chronicles the lives of radio pioneer David Sarnoff (PJ Powers) and television inventor Philo T. Farnsworth (Rob Fagin), which sounds like a good idea for an essay, but doesn’t quite lend itself to character development and fully realized relationships. The personal tragedies that undo Farnsworth don’t receive much focus, failing to resonate when overshadowed by the massive amounts of scientific and historical knowledge needed to advance the plot. Granted, a staged essay written by Aaron Sorkin is still better than the majority of theater fare, but many of the particularly soapboxy passages feel like rehashed material from the writer’s previous works, especially a closing monologue that is basically this “West Wing” scene:

 

In spite of the script’s misgivings, Timeline turns out an excellent production. John Culbert’s alley set design makes transitions easy and provides an elevated plane that is used effectively to display balances in social status and power. Giving Sarnoff’s side of the stage stairs and Farnsworth’s side a ladder is also a clever way of revealing character: Sarnoff can walk, Farnsworth must always climb. Lindsey Pate’s costumes have a modest beauty, historically accurate yet still exciting, and a parade of schoolgirls in pastel dresses is a particular highlight.

Powers plays Sarnoff with a cool demeanor that intimidates in the boardroom, but melts away to reveal a fiery core when his ideals are questioned. Sarnoff is the major outlet for Sorkin’s criticism, and his hopes for the entertainment industry are a stark contrast to the current media landscape, particularly in the fields of advertisement restriction and tasteful content. The major dramatic tension of the play is in Sarnoff’s mission to discover television first, and Power succeeds in capturing the intensity of a man that has few limits when obtaining what he desires, both financially and ethically. Fagin has a Midwestern charm that serves as a great foil to Sarnoff’s pretension, and both actors do fantastic work with the tricky dialogue. Philo’s relationship with wife Pem (Bridgette Pechman) is where a large portion of the production’s heart arises, and Pechman plays her with a concerned anxiety that allows for comic moments while still bringing a sense of foreboding.

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Timeline explores new possibilities and builds consistently excellent productions while protecting the past that gives them their name. Recycled as it may be, the final monologue has even more power when spoken by Artistic Director PJ Powers: “We were meant to be explorers. Explorers, builders, and protectors.” After a year of unprecedented success, where will Timeline go next?

 
 
Rating: ★★★½
 
 

Extra Credit:

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Production publicity photos by Ryan Robinson.

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