Review: Three Days of Rain (Backstage Theatre)

        
        

Another memorable production from Backstage

  
  

Rebekah Ward-Hays & John Henry Roberts - Three Days of Rain

   
Backstage Theatre Company presents
       

Three Days of Rain

  
  
Written by Richard Greenberg
Directed by Matthew Reeder
at the
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western (map)
through June 25  |  tickets: $10-$22  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

We are often fascinated by the story of who our parents were before they had children since it is essentially how we came to exist. It helps us understand the lives of the most influential people in your life, and it guides us in our own quest for love and self definition. This idea played a large role in Backstage Theatre Company’s Memory, their impressive first play of their season. Other times these stories, as is the case in Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain (known to many theatergoers as the play Julia Roberts flatly debuted in on Broadway), can be a great mystery to obsess upon for years. The overriding mystery is what binds six fascinating characters together played by three actors. Artistic Director Matthew Reeder’s direction in this Backstage production is strikingly human, intimate and traipses through these characters’ lives like a lone jazz trumpet traveling through time accompanied by well-suited recordings of Miles Davis doing the real thing.

Rebekah Ward-Hays & Tony BozzutoIn present day downtown Manhattan (or maybe more so the mid-90’s if you really do the math on years referenced) we meet Walker (John Henry Roberts) in a sparse spacious apartment. He is intellectual, searching and a narcissist. After disappearing in Italy his family had thought him dead. More specifically, his sister Nan (Rebekah Ward-Hays) and his old friend Pip (Tony Bozzuto) thought so. Upon finding his recently deceased father’s journal, Walker attempts to decipher the cryptic seemingly commonplace entries. Walker believes that his parents “married because by 1960 they had reached a certain age and they were the last ones left in the room.” Nan struggles with Walker’s return and his obsession with their father’s journal. Pip, a soap-opera star, has history with Nan, and Walker was – or still is – in love with him, causing interesting tension when any combination of the three of them is on stage.

Walker and Nan’s father Ned (also played by Roberts) was a great architect, or at least built one impressive house. Pip is the son of their father’s partner, Theo. In the second act Bozzuto, Roberts and Ward-Hays all take on the roles of their parents in the 1960’s. Greenberg’s writing is smart in how it takes certain words or phrases you hear in the first act and sprinkles them in the second act, showing you the roots of these ultimately poetic characters in linguistic parallels. We bear witness to all that Walker, Nan and Pip could not possibly know even if the stories were retold or handed down. They would have changed as all stories do through the course of history. Nevertheless, a few small words which Ned (Walker and Nan’s father) writes down carries all the weight in the world for each character involved in this play. Even if the meaning of those words died with Ned, they still have impacted the lives of these people profoundly whether the truth is known or not.

The performances of these six difficult characters to play are worthy. The hurdle is portraying two different characters that are clueless to what the other knows and yet finding the connection between them. John Henry Roberts was stiff at times on opening night and hit an occasional false note as Walker at first, but he eventually relaxed into the role and became fascinating during the ritual that ends the act. As Walker’s father, Ned, he brings a very different character to the stage that is vivacious and electric to watch. Ward-Hays is magnificent in her balance of anger and love as Nan, and then in her dreamier and more sexually charged performance as Lina. Bozzuto is dynamic displaying an exciting capability for detailed physical choices.

          
Tony Bozzuto & John Henry Roberts in Backstage Theatre's "Three Days of Rain" by Richard Greenberg. (photo: Hays)  Rebekah Ward-Hays & Tony Bozzuto in Backstage Theatre's "Three Days of Rain" by Richard Greenberg. (photo: Hays)
Tony Bozzuto in Backstage Theatre's "Three Days of Rain" by Richard Greenberg. (photo: Hays) Rebekah Ward-Hays & John Henry Roberts

Reeder makes a brilliant choice opening the second act by allowing the characters of Theo and Ned to spend the first couple minutes transforming the space in front of our eyes, bringing life into the abandoned apartment and turning it into an invigorating Manhattan architectural workspace of the 1960’s. It’s the same apartment as in the first act, but the makeover of the room is akin to time travel. Brandon Wardell’s set fills the Viaduct space perfectly, and his lighting on the windows does wonders to create the ambiance of the physical and emotional setting.

Greenberg’s non-linear storytelling is thought-provoking as only we, the audience, know the true gravitas of the words, “Three days of rain,” which Ned enters into his journal. However, perhaps this is the nature of history; it can never be retold exactly, nor needs to be. Walker and Nan come to their own necessary closure with their parents’ ambiguous history, and their father took his memories to the grave. What’s clear is that Backstage Theatre Company continues to excel in creating memories for theatergoers that are definitely unforgettable.

    
  
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Rebekah Ward-Hays & John Henry Roberts

Performances for Three Days of Rain run every Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and every Sunday at 3 p.m., from May 20th through June 25th. No performance June 16th, added performance Monday, June 6th at 7:00 p.m. General admission tickets are $25, senior tickets are $22, and student tickets (with a valid ID) are $10. Group rates are available. Tickets are available through the Viaduct Theatre by phone, (773) 296-6024. For more information about BackStage Theatre Company and Three Days of Rain, visit www.backstagetheatrecompany.org.

     

     
     

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REVIEW: Million Dollar Quartet – yeah, it still rocks!

Yeah, it still rocks

 

milliondollarquartet-all

       
Apollo Theater Chicago presents
   
Million Dollar Quartet
   
Book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux
Musical Arrangements by
Chuck Mead
Directed by
Floyd Mutrux & Eric Schaeffer
at
Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through September 5th  |  tickets: $59-$80  |  more info

reviewed by Oliver Sava

I know two people that have seen Million Dollar Quartet over 30 times. A retired married couple, they are the target audience of the musical: seniors with a nostalgic appreciation for the pioneers of rock n’ roll. I have a nostalgic appreciation for No Doubt. My knowledge of Johnny Cash’s music is the “Walk the Line” soundtrack, my Elvis I.Q. is limited to my mother’s cassettes on road trips, and I recognize the songs mdq-03 of Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, but know next to nothing about the men themselves. That being said, Million Dollar Quartet is currently playing on Broadway with a national tour in the works and Tony nominations in its pocket, so it’s got to be good, right?

It is.

I expected dynamic musical numbers from skilled performers, but Million Dollar Quartet is more than just a glorified cover band. Escott and Mutrux’s book is edutainment at its finest, a spirited history lesson on the early days of rock n’ roll centered on legendary music producer Sam Phillips (Tim Decker), the man responsible for the superstar jam session. Decker understands the emotional journey of his character, from Phillips’ pride in the humble Sun Records, his anger at losing his major talent, and his hope in the future of rock n’ roll. Phillips’ devotion to the music is clear in Decker’s confidence on stage, portraying a man whose home is the studio.

Flashbacks to Phillips’ first encounters with Perkins (Gabe Bowling), Cash (Sean Sullivan), and Presley (David Lago) establish the relationship between the musicians and their producer, and reveal how paramount Phillips was to the evolution of these men as artists. These three men are the already established Sun Records family, three brothers that don’t always get along but respect each other, with Lewis (Lance Lipinsky) as the cocky new kid with the potential to be a star. When the four of them play together, the results are electric, and Phillips is that tie that binds them.

The thrill of Million Dollar Quartet is seeing four legends playing together for the first and only time. The actors have to sell the illusion for maximum impact, and the new cast does so admirably. Lipinsky has big shoes to fill – Levi Kreis is nominated for a Tony and has won the Outer Critics Circle for Best Featured Actor – but he backs up Lewis’s ego with boundless energy and fevered fingers that showcase his technical mastery. Lipinsky’s mischievous smile and carefree demeanor contrast with his more professional comrades, providing comic relief and adding tension to the script, particularly in his interactions with Bowling’s hotheaded Perkins. With his hit song “Blue Suede Shoes” usurped by Presley and his record sales dwindling, Perkins stands to lose the most, and Bowling finds the desperation that lies beneath the temper.

mdq01Sullivan has Cash’s bass vocals down pat, and his gentle conduct serves to make the character’s conflict – telling Phillips he will not be renewing his Sun contract – all the more believable. As the most imitated of the group, Lago does all the hip shaking and lip curling you expect, but is careful not to become a caricature. At this point in his career Elvis is still a young upstart, and Lago plays him with an understated sexuality that suggests a man not yet in control of the power he has over people, especially women. Kelly Lamont brings some estrogen to the studio as Dyanne, Presley’s sassy girlfriend with a powerhouse belt, and her rendition of “Fever” smolders, starting softly and building in intensity until the last note. Watching the quartet take turns flirting with her is consistently amusing, and the a cappella fan in me swooned as she vocalized the fiddle part in “Riders in the Sky.”

When the quartet plays, they forget about contracts and television appearances and just live in the music. That release is rock n’ roll, and Million Dollar Quartet is a fitting tribute to its early years that shouldn’t be missed.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

 

   
  

REVIEW – “Requiem for a Heavyweight” at Shattered Globe

Requiem for a Heavyweight
“Why do so many have to feed off one guy’s misery?” This line in Shattered Globe’s heroic, heart-wrenching production of Requiem for a Heavyweight, sums up the life of the lead character, a boxer nick-named Mountain (Sean Sullivan). Written by Rod Serling (creator of “The Twilight Zone“) as a 1957 teleplay, Serling lays out for us the extremes that people will go in furthering their own lives, all the while squeezing out every last ounce of dignity from others. Mountain, a tender giant from Tennessee, who at one time was ranked 5th in the world, finds himself unemployed after 14-years of boxing. The play begins during Mountain’s final fight, a startlingly brutal confrontation, blood and sweat flying off him as he is barraged with punch after punch by the soon-to-be victor. His eyes and face beaten to a pulp (with severe disfiguration from years of fighting), the doctor rules that this will be his last fight, as any more damage to his eyes could leave him blind. Feeling indebted to his manager, Maish (Bill Bannon), Mountain finds himself at an employment office, where he meets with job counselor Grace (Paula Stevens), who takes him under her wing, determined to find him a job. This scene involving Mountain and Grace is a marvel to behold, as Mountain clumsily blurts out that – once people see his disfigured face – nobody is willing to hire him. Though Grace sets him up with a job working as a camp counselor, his manager Maish has other plans for him, booking him into the humiliating realm of professional wrestling, posing as an Appalachian Davey Crockett, complete with coonskin hat and long-johns. We are left at the end with deep sympathy for Mountain, while holding inside a glimmer of hope that his life will someday get better.

Strengths: Director Lou Contey has outdone himself with his vision and execution of this glorious story – the ensemble is dead-on in the depictions of their characters. Along with Sean Sullivan, Bill Bannon and Paula Stevens, praise must also be given to the rest of the cast – Brian McCartney, Scott Aiello, and Jamie Vann. The production looks great – with a superbly-adaptable set designed by Kevin Hagan.

Reservations: Though there is little here not to love, the final scene becomes a bit preachy, as Mountain spells out what he is doing and why. Though Mountain is an honorable character, he’s not the type that’s eloquent enough to package his actions so succinctly.

Summary: In Requiem for a Heavyweight, Shattered Globe presents us with a perfect example of the kind of ensemble theatre Chicago is known for: gritty, raw and vulnerable, all wrapped inside a small intimate theatre space. It will be hard to experience a better performance than that of Sean Sullivan, who brings the empathetic audience to tears, as he succumbs to the realization that he has been used and then tossed aside by all those in his life whom he thought were looking out for him. This play is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Rating: ««««

Opening: Shattered Globe’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight”.

One of my favorite Chicago theatre companies, Shattered Globe, continues their exciting 2007-2008 season with the tumultuous “Requiem for a Heavyweight” by Rod Serling; directed by Louis Contey. Opening night is Sunday, January 13th. (hat-tip to Karin McKie for providing the production info)

   

 011208-1942-shatteredgl1.jpgRequiem 3

   
WHAT: Shattered Globe Theatre will present “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” by Rod Serling and directed by Louis Contey.  In this 1956 drama, washed-up prizefighter Harlan “Mountain” McClintock faces the sudden end of his career. Having spent 14 years in the ring, Mountain faces the prospect of a life that does not include boxing and discovers that the skills that almost made him a champion don’t count for much in the wider world. Mountain is torn between the possibility of new love and a promising future offered by social worker Grace, and loyalty to his self-serving manager Maish, who wants to exploit the fighter on the lucrative professional wrestling circuit. Widely regarded as one of the greatest sports dramas of all time, “Requiem for a Heavyweight” is a gut-wrenching account of the merciless prizefight game and the human wreckage it leaves in its wake. 
   
WHERE: Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. (map)
   
WHEN: Opens Sunday, January 13th (3pm) through March 8th (Saturday). Complete schedule here.
   
TIX: Call box-office at 773-871-3000, or order online. Reduced tickets at HotTix (when available).
   
CAST: Scott Aiello (Leo), Bill Bannon (Maish), David Bendena (Greeny), Don Blair (Doctor and Charlie), Craig Degel (Morrell, Thug), Mike Falevitz (young boxer and photographer), Brian McCartney (Army), Paula Stevens (Grace), Sean Sullivan (“Mountain” McClintock), and Jamie Vann (Perelli).
   
STAFF: Kevin Hagan (Production Manager and Scenic Design), Brian McCaskill (Co-Producer), Eileen Niccolai (Co-Producer), Danielle Boyke (Stage Manager), Lou Contey (Director), Mike Durst (Lighting Design), Cybele Moon (Costume Design) and Mike Tutaj (Sound Design).
   
FUNDERS: Alphawood Foundation, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, the Robert J. and Loretta W. Cooney Foundation, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, a CityArts I grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Leo S. Guthman Fund, the Illinois Arts Council, the Mid-North Association and Much Shelist.