REVIEW: Jailbait (Profiles Theatre)

Teens grow up too fast in Profile’s tense tragicomedy

 

Emmy (Zoe Levin) and friend Claire (Rae Gray) in Profiles Theatre's "Jailbait" by Deidre O'Connor

   
Profiles Theatre presents
   
Jailbait
  
Written by Deidre O’Connor
Directed by
Joe Jahraus
at
Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway (map)
through October 17  |  tickets: $30-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

“We’re 15, everything fun is illegal,” Emmy (Zoe Levin) tells her friend Claire (Rae Gray) as they prepare to sneak into a 21-and-over nightclub. Over the course of Deidre O’Connor’s Jailbait, the two girls learn why those laws are in place when they’re paired off with Mark (Shane Kenyon) and Robert (Eric Burgher), two thirty-somethings looking for an undergrad-style night of drunken debauchery.

Emmy (Zoe Levin) and friend Claire (Rae Gray) in Profiles Theatre's "Jailbait" by Deidre O'ConnorWith children being exposed to sexually charged material at an earlier age, what was once considered deplorable behavior is becoming the norm for teenagers. Playwright Deidre O’Connor recognizes this changing social climate without passing judgment, letting the audience draw conclusions as the events unfold. The script realistically confronts the issue of teenage sexuality without being preachy, creating a complex situation where blame is shared between all involved parties and everyone is a victim.

With a cast of actors adept at creating believable characters, Joe Jahraus directs a tense, provocative production that reinforces the themes of the script beautifully. Gray gives an outstanding performance as Claire, who is simultaneously struggling with the pressures of adolescence and the loss of her father. Claire blossoms in the liberate environment of the adult world, and Gray captures both the awkward teen and confident woman in Claire beautifully.

In a play full of tense moments, Claire’s scenes with the newly single Robert are especially painful to watch because of the actors’ terrific chemistry, milking dramatic irony for all its worth as the attraction builds. An interesting dynamic develops during these scenes, with Robert acting more youthful and carefree as Claire matures, effectively bridging the emotional age gap while the physical and legal age gaps loom dreadfully. The play succeeds largely in part due to Burgher’s vulnerable, anxious, but ultimately charming portrayal of Robert, avoiding any predatory qualities that could compromise the innocence of his courtship with Claire. The character is likable, making it so much more difficult to watch him seduce a 15 year old girl.

In supporting roles, Levin and Kenyon are the drunker, rowdier pair, providing comic relief while still being given a fair share of meaty, dramatic moments. As a man whose “first wife hasn’t even born yet,” Mark is the closest thing to the play’s antagonist, with his manipulation setting tragic events in motion. Kenyon’s charisma makes it hard to hate the character, and he does have a point when it comes to the arguments he makes to lift Robert out of his slump – except for the part where the girls are 15. Levin spends a good amount of the show playing drunk, a difficult task she performs impressively, but she also gives Emmy a clear emotional journey, making her more vulnerable as the play progresses.

At the end of Jailbait, Claire and Emmy talk about the events of the night with the excitement of teenage girls gossiping about their latest crushes, free from the burdens of being an adult. This scene is welcome relief from the tension of the rest of the play, but also serves as a foreboding reminder that once the adult has touched you, it owns you. Growing up will happen no matter what, so why lose your childhood?

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Jailbait Press Photo 4

Production Personnel

Playwright: Deidre O’Connor
Director: Joe Jahraus
Featuring: Eric Burgher, Rae Gray, Shane Kenyon, Zoe Levin
Lighting Design: Jess Harpenau
Sound Design: Jeffrey Levin
Set Design: Sotirios Livaditis
Costumes:  Melissa Ng
Stage Manager:  Corey Weinberg

  
  

REVIEW: The Tallest Man (The Artistic Home)

 

Great News: Due to high ticket sales, The Artistic Home

has extended this fine production through August 22nd!!

Of travelers and tall ghosts

 

The Tallest Man

   
The Artistic Home presents
   
The Tallest Man
   
Written by Jim Lynch
Directed by John Mossman
at
The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark  (map)
through August 22nd  |  tickets: $22-$27  |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, and have heard a good deal of what is called Irish tradition and superstition. Ghosts, feuds, remedies for bad luck, and  pride in one’s culture abound in the Artistic Home production of The Tallest Man. This fine production brings to life a land and culture in a humorous and touching way.

Tourmakeady, County Mayo Ireland around the turn of the 20th-century is the setting for this tale based on the stories told to playwright Jim Lynch. The people have survived the Great Potato Famine and live under British rule on Irish land. Here they The Tallest Manscramble for survival; land ownership is brutal and unrelenting with the collector looming around every corner.

The characters are introduced around the centerpiece of Breda Kennedy’s pub. Breda and her daughter Katie run the pub and Breda demands respect as the only Catholic woman who owns anything in County Mayo. Miranda Zola plays Breda with lusty ferocity, looking like a woman who has been ten rounds and won bare-knuckled. It is a brilliant performance from Ms. Zola, who I last saw playing a more deluded matriarch in The Artistic Home production of The House of Yes (our review ★★★).

The action begins in the pub with local sots Tommy Joe Lally (Frank Nall) and Johnny Mulligan (Bill Boehler). The two men sit at a barrel table drinking steins of whiskey and telling tales of the Tall Man, whose presence has altered life in Tourmakeady. Katie Kennedy tends the pub and dismisses the two men as yokels who are full of blarney. Katie (played with deep longing and courage by Marta Evans) yearns to go to a mythical New York where she can be a fine lady with furs and jewelry. She refuses to be tied down to the only other landowner – Tommy Joe. Early on it is apparent that Lally and Mulligan are always getting into absurd situations. They are the Vladimir and Estragon of County Mayo, showing their comedic genius in a scene where they pose as Cain and Abel after losing a card game to the parish priest.

The town of Tourmakeady is a character as well in this production. Set designer Mike Mroch has represented this environment through a darkly-painted stage replete with foreboding hues of green and fully-embellished with leaves.  It is not quite the rolling and verdant hills of Irish legend, but instead a survivor of famine and blood spilled over land rights. The cemetery and church have the same aura. Along with Mroch, playwright Jim Lynch and director John Mossman have crafted a complete fusion of time, character and place without compromise.

The Tallest Man The Tallest Man

The history of the Irish Travelers is a motif of the story. The main characters of Finbar McDonough and his cousin Frankie Walsh are from the Traveler tradition. They are called Tinkers in The Tallest Man, and represent a shameful and unwelcome part of Tourmakeady to Breda Kennedy. They are scoundrel, thieves, and worse. Finbar McDonough is in love with the beautiful lass Katie. Shane Kenyon plays Finbar with a devilish and sexy glint that is most appealing. He and Katie make out in the dark outside the bar and make plans for the future. Katie wants out and Finbar want to settle old scores. They have a wonderful chemistry without the airbrushing or any false notes.

The Tallest Man also exposes the Catholic Church as a seedy partner in the people’s struggle of Ireland. Malcolm Callan plays the local priest, Father McLaughlin, of Tourmakeady with unctuous vigor. He is seen extorting kickbacks from the landlord’s The Tallest Man representative. Father McLaughlin couches his demands from Newcomb (delightfully played by Eamonn McDonogh) under the guise of helping ‘his people’. The dialogue of how ‘their dirty faces look to me every Sunday’ made my skin crawl considering the current events with some of the priesthood. Devout lad Frankie Walsh discovers Father McLaughlin’s underhanded activities. Frankie remembers his daddy fondly, and feels responsible for his death by speaking at the wrong time. He cannot forgive McLaughlin’s duplicity of blessing his father’s funeral while being responsible for his death. Walsh projects wrath, grief, and guilt so beautifully in a part that could be really over the top. Darrelyn Marx as Finbar’s mother Mary is also wonderful, possessing a gorgeous voice when she sings of her son. It’s a moment to bring tears to the eyes.

Jim Lynch also brings tears of laughter through his capturing of Irish wit and tradition without false embellishment. The Tallest Man is a rowdy good time. The language is coarse and the action is naturalistic. There is blood, sweat, spit, and lust in every scene both implied or seen. John Mossman directs this production seamlessly; every scene and character flows as well as fits in what could easily be a complicated puzzle. More than just a tale of Tinker ingenuity, the work is the story not told in the history books but instead around the table, or at the corner bar, or at your grandfather’s knee no matter your genealogy. See it, and you’ll also see your family somewhere within.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 
 

The Tallest Man plays on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through August 22nd, 2010. The Artistic Home Theatre is located at 3914 N. Clark near Irving Park. For tickets call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.theartisthome.org

   
   

Featuring Ensemble members Marta Evans, Nick Horst, Frank Nall, and Miranda Zola; and Guest Artists Shane Kenyon, Eamonn McDonagh, Darrelyn Marx, Malcolm Callan, Brandon Thompson and Bill Boehler.

Directed by John Mossman
Produced by Jimmy Ronan and Samantha Church
Assistant Directed by Kristin Collins
Stage Manager: Rose Kruger
Lighting design by Josh Weckesser
Scenic Design by Mike Mroch
Costume design by Ellen Seidel
Sound/Original Music design by Aaron Krister Johnson

     
     

REVIEW: Days of Late (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

The quandaries of modern love

 

DaysOfLate7

 
SiNNERMAN Ensemble presents
 
Days of Late
 
Written/directed by Braden LuBell
at
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western (map)
through May 22nd | tickets: $15-$20 | more info

reviewed  by K.D. Hopkins

SiNNERMAN Ensemble has produced a quirky and intense expose of life and love among the twenty to thirty-something generation. Days of Late lays bare the labyrinth that relationships have become in the electronic age. Written and directed by Braden LuBell, Days of Late features a remarkable ensemble.

DaysOfLate4 Navigating the path to relationship has become an inorganic process post-millennium. Text messages, instant messages, tweeting, g-talk, dating sites, and anonymity have taken the place of meeting a girl or a guy at school, church or even the local pub in “days of late”. Everyone is longing for intimacy but the means of attaining it are anything but intimate.

LuBell’s script is a series of well-staged scenarios between a group of friends and their assorted associates. The minimalist set is similar to Lucid (our review ★★½)also directed by LuBell but it works much better with his own writing. The actors move the simple pieces of furniture about in between scenes like puzzle pieces, and then sit on the sides of the stage as observers in the shadows. This allows the actors to be the focus of attention but calls to mind how love is manipulated and discarded like so much furniture.

Some of the cast members really stood out. Shane Kenyon as Arthur and Sue Redman as Avery represent the most authentic journey of all the relationships. Mr. Kenyon’s comedic timing is perfect and in a second he breaks your heart projecting the frustration of trying to be honest in a world that thrives on game playing. Ms. Redman is the perfect accompaniment as Avery. Her character’s explanation of having to look great to attract the right guy while repelling the wrong guy at the same time was hilarious in its honesty. The performances by Ebony Wimbs and Doug Tyler are interesting in that they are portraying characters that have been emotionally stunted from childhood. Ms. Wimbs plays Nina – a woman who has made her way into the world of high art and her model for love is more like a business plan. She finds Max (Tyler) online, who has just ended a two-year relationship with a man. Max wants to have the American family ideal. ‘Someone to grow old with and have kids’ is on his agenda and he decides that it should be a woman. There is a contrived nature to their relationship, seemingly constructed with directions from advice columns and magazine articles on identity and poly-amory. The performances of Ms. Wimbs and Mr. Tyler have a fine balance in portraying this situation. They are nuanced and open hearted even when it all comes to an unexpected conclusion.

Brian Kavanaugh (as Dale) makes the perfect sinister attorney on the down low who orders anonymous sex online to be delivered to his office. Dale is a jerk to everyone and cannot seem to come to terms with his sexual longings. Arianne Ellison has a funny and poignant turn as Dale’s emotionally abused wife Chrissy. One can not help but flinch as Dale berates her for not appreciating how hard he worked to get them to an upper echelon of society. The New Year’s Eve scene with Chrissy and Avery is beautifully acted and literally shows what happened to the cheerleader who had it all.

DaysOfLate8 DaysOfLate5
DaysOfLate6 DaysOfLate3

Christine Lin, as Miyoko the gallery curator, and Bret Lee as Sascha, the gay starving artist, fill out the cast, do a fine job with roles that feel contrived and stereotypical. Ms. Lin is the Asian woman who rebels against the stereotype of submissiveness by being the polar opposite. She is revolted when she has her first orgasm delivered with great comic and sexy flair by Mr. Kenyon. She is used to rough and anonymous sodomy with Dale the doltish attorney and hates that she loses control. Mr. Lee spends most of the play as the walking wounded. He doesn’t get any of the snappy repartee or double entendre but manages to turn in a fine performance free of snark or self-pity.

The performances in Days of Late owe a lot to a fluid script. Some of the terms that could be a challenge are made clear by the writing and smooth direction. I am glad to be a generation before the one portrayed in this production. The world is an emotional minefield and the roadmap is mostly a mélange of instant gratification. This generation has been raised in an era of permissiveness and experimentation under the guise of personal freedom. Self-control and letting things unfold naturally still turn out to be the winning ticket. Days of Late is a definite winner. It is funny, warm, and potentially shocking in its frankness. Not for kids unless you want to do some hard explaining.

 
Rating: ★★★
 

“Days of Late” runs through May 22nd at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western in Chicago. The times are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 3:00pm. Tickets are available by calling 773-296-6024 or www.viaducttheatre.com. Read more about this talented ensemble at http://www.sinnermanensemble.org.

 days-of-late-postcard

 

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REVIEW: Mary’s Wedding (Rivendell Theatre)

Even Rivendell can’t save this wedding from mediocrity

 picture by Mark Campbell

Rivendell Theatre presents:

Mary’s Wedding

 

by Stephen Massicotte
directed by
Mark Ulrich 
thru February 20th (ticket info)

review by Paige Listerud

What can be said about a simple and elegant production of a mediocre play? It is like trying to praise the beauty of an exquisitely hand-carved chair that, nevertheless, shows one leg significantly shorter than all the rest. A clunky, fundamental flaw overrides whatever other virtues one could acknowledge about graceful line or sleek finish. So it is with Rivendell’s production of Mary’s Wedding, a one-act dream play about two young Canadians striving to maintain their love affair during the First World War.

photographer: Mark Campbell Stephen Massicotte received Canadian playwriting and literary awards for Mary’s Wedding, recognition that, no doubt, has won its career of productions throughout Canada, the US, and the UK. However, in spite of a sure-handed facility with dramatic structure that blends one character’s storyline with the other—no small talent, to be sure—the play is encumbered by basic shallowness.

First and foremost, the romance between Mary (Cassandra Bissell) and Charles (Shane Kenyon) is the most generic sort. She has recently arrived from England, upper-crustiness intact, and he is a common, horseback-riding, farm boy “colonist”—these stereotypes in the play are as entrenched as anything along the Western Front. What draws these two together remains one of its most underdeveloped features. Sadly, while Bissell and Kenyon’s interactions show freshness and innocence, there is not enough chemistry between them to make up for the text’s deficiencies. Be prepared for tepid barn scenes, “startling” horseback rides, boring tea parties, and a disapproving, upper-crusty mother.

The audience must slog through 30 minutes of that before finally getting on to the war. Once there, creaky exposition comes across more like cliff notes to Canada’s participation in the Great War than any young man’s authentic first person experience. Trenches, lice, poison gas—even “my first kill”—gets ticked off like a laundry list. Throw in Gordan Muriel Flowerdew and the Battle of Moreuil Wood and you’ve got something that will easily serve as a Canadian after-school-special.

Photographer: Mark Campbell Photographer: Mark Campbell
Photographer: Mark Campbell Photographer: Mark Campbell

These are terrible things to say in the face of a cast and crew striving for a balanced, lean, heartfelt, and poetic production. By that, I mean true poetry—not the faux poeticism of repetitions in the text that lose their power to resonate and can, in fact, become as irritating as nails on a blackboard. Mark Ulrich’s directorial choices are, for the most part, clean, spare, and agile, eliciting the play’s dreamlike structure. Shane Kenyon is adeptly profound at portraying Charles’ encroaching war-weariness, while Cassandra Bissell brings the play’s emotional impact home during its final moments. The trouble is in waiting for the play to get there, enduring all its speed bumps along the way.

As a theater company, Rivendell Theatre has moved far beyond works like these. It shows a cohesion and professionalism that has lifted it to a higher level of excellence for small theaters in this city. It can take pride in its achievements and elevate its vision of what it can accomplish in future productions. And it can leave less fulfilling works behind—perhaps even in the dustbin of history.

Rating: ★★½

Scene from Mary’s Wedding on YouTube

Review: side project’s “Rewind

‘Rewind’: exquisite production, downer play

 

Prod - Noah, Jim, Elisha, Scaff - couch 3

The side project theatre company presents:

Rewind

By Laura Eason
Directed by Anna C. Bahow
Through Dec. 20 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way. They were the next big thing in rock. But Noah walked away. Elisha married that asshole. And now Jim’s dead — leaving them all to wonder — ‘How did we get here?'”

Prod - Noah, Jim and Elisha - couch That spoiler comes straight out of promotions for Rewind, up-and-coming Chicago playwright Laura Eason’s new play, now in world-premiere by the side project, in Rogers Park, so I’m not giving anything away. The trouble with plays that start at the end is that they tend to lack suspense.

While the flashback can be an effective theatrical technique to fill audiences in on the back story, it can go too far. This play doesn’t flashback so much as reverse crawl.

Partly inspired by the playwright’s own experiences in Chicago’s indie music scene and influenced by the 1996 suicide of Jim Ellison, front man for the Chicago power pop trio Material Issue, Rewind begins in 1998, when the members of his onetime band, childhood friend Noah and ex-lover Elisha, find the body of Jim, a talented but troubled and unsuccessful songwriter and musician. Then the drama steps back — rewinds, get it? — through the threesome’s life to the band’s beginnings in 1981.

We wait for some startling revelation or inspiring moment, but none appear. What we get is an old, old story — familiar to anyone who knows anything about the music business: Talent is not enough; you also need perseverance, responsibility, belief in yourself and a good deal of luck.

As the play progresses backwards, we see the band’s deteriorating relationships; Jim’s insecurity over whether his music is really good enough; issues of personal loyalty vs. business expediency; troubles with their record label; their opportunistic manager; the bitter contrast of a younger musician achieving the success that’s eluded them; and, finally, their hopeful start. The depressing history of a million failed garage bands.

Prod - Noah, Jim and Ray - couch 2

Side project presents the play in its typically flawless way — perhaps unintentionally reinforcing the theme: Fine acting, an effective set and excellent staging and direction aren’t enough, either.

Chip Davis is suitably intense as Jim, and Zach Buell nicely expressive as his always-supportive pal, Noah. Cyd Blakewell plays the somewhat selfish Elisha with just the right blend of innocence and self-interest. Supporting actors Shane Kenyon and Brett Schneider do good work as well.

Sound Designer Misha Fiksel hunted out local music from the period (a pity it’s only used incidentally). Set Designer Annette Vargas dappled the 30-seat theater with bright spray-paint graffiti and hung the walls with colorful band posters from Chicago print house Screwball Press that list all local indie music spots of the period: Lounge Ax, Double Door, the Empty Bottle, the Aragon Ballroom.

The audience sits on two sides of the intimate stage, where Director Anna C. Bahow makes adept use of the few stage furnishings to convey 17 different scenes. She moves her cast in and out with exquisite pacing.

Yet although Rewind is performed without intermission in just 90 minutes, its utter predictability makes it seem much longer.

 

Rating: ★★½

 

Note: Allow time to find street parking.