REVIEW: Madeleine Remains (Clove Productions)

How an epic fail can destroy a delicacy

 

clove productions poster

  
Clove Productions presents
   
Madeleine Remains
  
Written by Michael Martin
Directed by Shannon Evans
at the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through July 17th  |  tickets: $12   |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Michael Martin’s new one-woman play, MADELEINE REMAINS: In Memory, A Wife of Genius, is quite a casual production at the side project theatre in Rogers Park. Not that that’s a bad thing. A certain community sensibility pervades the scene at Clove Productions. A feeling of comfort, casualness, and ease exudes from the presence of madeleine remains close friends, family, and long-time theatre compatriots in attendance. This is intimate theater in Chicago in the warm summer air. Here, new works in progress receive a low-key reception, profoundly appreciative of small and delicate work.

Directed by Shannon Evans and produced by Clove Productions, small and delicate is precisely how one should describe Madeleine Remains. It could also be called fine art comedy, since its humor is as ornate and fine-spun as filigree silver jewelry.

The wife of Andre Gide is explaining her life as the simple, unadorned and introverted muse of a modern literary genius. She is also the turn-of-the-century wife to a deeply closeted gay author. His love for her is of a heightened spiritual kind that has no need for earthly passion—or so he tells her when they marry. He even writes love letters to her, which he claims are his finest literary creations. Too bad the ethereal romance of their marriage shows its feet of clay when Andre runs off for a long romance with 16 year-old Mark. This leads Madeleine to burn Andre’s spiritual love letters, but not before she has committed each and every one of them to memory.

One would think this kind of monologue would be burdened with melodramatic histrionics. But Martin’s writing is more cunning than that and in Ariel Brenner he has an actress precisely cast for the role. Brenner has captured Madeleine’s every quiet, unimposing introverted tic and created a comic tour de force with her perfectly timed execution of Martin’s lines. It’s as if Brenner had invented “Less is More” with her exacting portrayal of Madeleine’s subtle personality and exquisitely demur ego.

Sadly, on the night I witnessed the production, an epic fail overthrew all that exquisite work. Brenner stalled right in the middle of the monologue, visibly retreated into her chair, and simply could not recover. A generous and ardent admirer from the audience took her hand and led her from the stage so that she could collect herself. Brenner returned to the stage, the rest of the script in hand, and picked up about where she had left off, relying on the script the rest of the way.

It’s truly difficult to assess the rest of Martin’s work from these unfortunate circumstances. Much of the well-established comic timing that Brenner had slain with was lost. Near the end, Madeleine remarks to the audience that she could recite the content of Andre’s love letters to them, but she refuses to do so until the audience comes to visit again. The ending seemed strikingly flat compared to such a light, bold, and promising beginning. Perhaps Martin would not like to imitate the writing style of Andre Gide by reproducing such an infamous lost text in his script. However, it would be nice to know what Madeleine thinks of a love that is based on airy nothingness—whether she thinks it greater or lesser than the earthly kind.

  
   
Rating: ★★
  
  

REVIEW: Hey! Dancin! (Factory Theatre)

Retro play satirizes modern celebrity

 

hey-dancin

 
Factory Theatre presents
 
Hey! Dancin’!
 
by Kirk Pynchon and Mike Beyer
directed by
Sarah Rose Graber
at
Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston (map)
through April 24th (more info)
 
reviewed by Keith Ecker 
 

In 1986, the same year that the Factory Theater’s new play Hey! Dancin’! takes place, I was 5 years old. But just because I was barely old enough to walk doesn’t mean I didn’t know how to dance. I fondly remember shaking it to Prince’s “Batdance” and jiving to the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance.” Yes, my memory is drenched with visions of DayGlo, high tops and sunglasses at night. The Chicago theatre scene seems to share the same penchant for the Reagan era, churning out no less than three 1980s-themed productions in the last month.

hey-dancin3 But whereas the other two plays—both stage versions of The Breakfast Club (here and here) —are adaptations of a popular movie, Hey! Dancin’! is wholly original. And although leading an audience into unknown territory comes with great risk, the entire cast and crew of Hey! Dancin’! executes the wonderfully written piece close to perfection. The end result is a stunningly entertaining play that evokes genuine laughs while offering insight into our modern perceptions of celebrity.

The play is about a fictitious popular cable access Chicago TV show called “Hey! Dancin’!” Think of it as a poor man’s American Bandstand but with much bigger hair and a much smaller audience. The protagonist, Halle (Melissa Nedell), and her sexually blossoming friend Trisha (Catherine Dughi), are obsessed with the show. The two teenagers squeal when their favorite cast members appear on screen, whom they know on a first-name basis.

“Hey! Dancin’!” is about to wrap up its TV season and the girls decide they desperately need to appear on air. Halle has an urge to meet teenage heartthrob Kenny Kapowski (Jacob A. Ware), who goes by the moniker K.K. Trisha has a much less innocent crush on the show’s older host Randy (Anthony Tournis), whose fashion sense is inspired by Miami Vice.

Meanwhile, the cable access network’s station manager Dennis Blackburn (Noah Simon) is getting phone calls from angry parents that the dance music on “Hey! Dancin’!” is upsettingly too “black.” Instead, he is being urged to play the top white hits of the day, Bon Jovi being the prime example. Randy is on the side of the kids and tries to put his foot down on changing the show’s format.

There is yet another plot line at work, one involving the aforementioned heartthrob K.K. and his on-air/off-air girlfriend Tanya Lacy (Aileen May). Tanya is a demanding diva who fancies herself as the star of “Hey! Dancin’!” She concocts a staged lover’s quarrel for the final show of the season, but her tyrannical attitude is a turnoff to K.K., who may just be looking elsewhere for love—or at least a little dry humping in the supply closet.

Hey! Dancin’! isn’t just a hair-brained ‘80s-inspired comedy. It’s also an effective satire on people’s perceptions of celebrity today. K.K. and his girlfriend Tanya see themselves as the center of the universe because they are on TV.—cable access—but TV nonetheless. Halle and Trisha give this notion weight since they are star-obsessed with these no-name nudniks. Yet as Halle gets to know the real K.K., who admittedly dreams of being famous without actually ever wanting to hone any real talent, the image of these backwoods celebrities begins to crumble.

hey-dancin2 hey-dancin3

Before seeing the play, I was afraid it would suffer from a few obvious pitfalls. First, the concept of a kid’s dance show where the music is “too black” closely parallels the plot of Hairspray. Fortunately, the writers, Kirk Pynchon and Mike Beyer, knew not to make this a central focus. Instead, the show’s possible demise hangs in the background, allowing the characters and their drama to take center stage.

In addition, a show set in 1986 could easily have been overburdened with cliché references. And although the play definitely capitalizes on ‘80s nostalgia, it refrains from being a staged version of VH1’s “I Love the ‘80s.”

The acting is brilliant. The comedic timing of most of the players is impeccable. I’ve seen countless improv, sketch and stand-up shows, and this rivals the best of them. Simon as the recovering alcoholic station manager is a scene-stealer with his Muppet-like voice and general awkwardness.

The show is an hour and 20 minutes long with no intermission, but you won’t be squirming in your seat thanks to Sarah Rose Graber’s directing. She makes sure the play moves along at a fast pace, only slowing down for scenes that demand extra attention, such as the aforementioned supply closet tryst.

Hate them or love them, the 80’s happened. And although that decade continues to be a pox on contemporary society (I’m looking at you MTV), the fact that we now have Hey! Dancin’! almost makes it all worth it.

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

Hey! Dancin’! continues through April 24th, performance on Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm ($20.00), and Sundays 7pm ($15.00). All performances at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave.

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