Review: El Stories – Red Line (Waltzing Mechanics)


Passionate passengers tell their stories


CTA red line belmont stop

Waltzing Mechanics present
El Stories: Red Line
Adapted and Directed by Thomas Murray
City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through Feb 23  | 
tickets: $10  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

As it crosses the city, the Red Line delivers its own cross-section within every car on each train. This inexhaustible supply of “war stories”–from bemused or outraged commuters and less than passive passengers–supplies the oral histories in Waltzing Mechanics’ hour-long trove of an urban travelogue.

waltzing mechanics - el storiesAs fluid as their material, the ten young performers, smoothly blocked by adaptor Thomas Murray, keep their imaginary el ride real. There’s a story for almost every stop from Jackson to Howard, with the action as random and revealing as accidental encounters and unintended intimacies deliver. Happily, given the Mechanics’ tough-loving sympathy for life’s underdogs, there’s little condescension in these vignettes.

So, not only do we hear about the homeless guy who took a dump on the Jackson stop’s platform, we also learn how in his crazy way he tried to warn his fellow travelers not to look before, well, nature took its course.

Imagine the craziest Red line trip you could take from downtown through Uptown to Rogers Park, with close encounters that are sometimes, well, too close for comfort. Along the wild way you meet a loud huckster who creates fake gospel songs to promote her incoherent promotions. A bicyclist who’s also a serial abuser of books from the CPL carefully wraps up evidence of his neglect. A cute blue-eyed stranger reluctantly reveals why he’s heading west–by showing the needle marks on his arms that he hopes will gradually fade away.

el train interior CTA red line wilson stop

A screamer discharges his mania at the station and suddenly silences himself on the train. Between naps, a drunk eats the world’s largest sub sandwich. News of Patrick Swayze’s death spreads like wildfire throughout a car. There’s a caped crusader, two very inept flash-mob “twins,” a diva who cleans her eyeliner brush on the seat, out-of-control kids, an imbecile who thinks the Union Jack is the Nazi swastika, a hand that goes up the wrong butt during a tight trip, a group of guys whose sexist rap is spread all over the car, a jerk who confuses a brush with a push, and all those who just don’t want to get involved, even when someone needs help.

All that the CTA provides so generously for only $2.25 is even more concentrated in this wacky assemblage (which at $10 is a bargain as well). Judging from the title, it’s far from finished, not when there’s still blue, brown, pink, purple and green lines left to expose.

Rating: ★★★

cta subway train

El Stories continues through February 23rd, with 8pm performances Monday-Wednesday @ City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr.  $10 general admission at door; advanced tickets available here.  More info: 



Adapted from original interviews and directed by Thomas Murray

Featuring Bryan Campbell, Nick Chandler, Zack Florent, Lance Hill, Keely Leonard, Eric Loughlin, Adrienne Matzen, Eleni Pappageorge, Shariba Rivers, and Margaret Scrantom.

Stage managed by Tina Frey


REVIEW: Defamation (Canamac Productions)


Strong intentions elevate predictable stereotypes



left to right are Rob Riley, AEA (as Judge Barnes), Bernie Beck, AEA (as defendant Arthur Golden), Shariba Rivers (as the defendant’s lawyer Ms. Allen), Steven Pringle (as the plaintiff’s lawyer Mr. Lawton), and Jacquie Coleman (as plaintiff Regina Wade), in Todd Logan’s “Defamation,” a Canamac Productions world premiere courtroom drama in a limited run at three Evanston, Illinois, houses of worship, directed by Richard Shavzin.  In the scene pictured defendant Golden is on the witness stand being questioned by his attorney, Ms. Allen.

Who steals my purse steals trash; ‘tis something, nothing;
Twas mine, ‘tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

            –Iago, Othello Act 3, scene 3, 155-161


Canamac Productions presents
Written by Todd Logan
Directed by
Richard Shavzin
various church locations, Evanston
through November 7  | 
tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Todd Logan designed his world premiere play, Defamation, to be staged at various church locations in Evanston–the better to provoke conversation about where we are about race and class today. Richard Shavzin directs this courtroom drama in which the Chicago area forms the template for all relations between its characters.

Regina Wade (Jacquie Coleman) is a tough African-American businesswoman, raised in Lawndale, preferring to reside in Bronzeville, who sues prominent realtor Arthur Golden (Bernard Beck), a wealthy resident of Winnetka, for the downfall of her business, due to his public accusations that she had stolen his heirloom watch. Both parties, through their lawyers, never deviate from their cross-accusations of each other. The audience must vote after closing arguments on who has made their case.

left to right are Shariba Rivers (as the defendant’s lawyer Ms. Allen), and plaintiff Jacquie Coleman (as plaintiff Regina Wade), in Todd Logan’s “Defamation,” a Canamac Productions world premiere courtroom drama in a limited run at three Evanston, Illinois, houses of worship, directed by Richard Shavzin. But does the audience vote on the case or on the racial dynamic put so clearly before them? It’s difficult to say, since Logan’s text gives them plenty of room for doubt. Ms. Wade might have lost her business because Golden slandered her among mutual clients. Or she might have lost her business due to another fiercely competitive company that undersold her products and services. Golden may have lost or misplaced his watch or it perhaps it has been stolen by someone else, but his unfamiliarity with a black woman in his own environment may have led him to think of her as the primary suspect. Logan allows ambiguity to rule. Instead of being a courtroom drama that unravels mystery and establishes the truth, the audience is left with their own conjectures over who did what and why.

As a source for discussion, the play is solid and enjoyable. It’s cast is strong, the acting personable, the direction simple and to the point. If all who show up are just the post-Obama crowd, who think that African Americans now have nothing left to complain about, then Defamation makes for good social tonic.

However, as drama, Defamation relies excessively on stereotype. Complete with a crotchety old judge, showboating lawyers, and a rich realtor more Jewish than Jesus, Defamation’s characters emerge direct from central casting. The production hangs on just as fiercely to that relatively new American stereotype, the Strong Black Woman.

left to right are Jacquie Coleman (as plaintiff Regina Wade), giving direct testimony to Steven Pringle (as the plaintiff’s lawyer Mr. Lawton), in Todd Logan’s “Defamation,” a Canamac Productions world premiere courtroom drama in a limited run at three Evanston, Illinois, houses of worship, directed by Richard Shavzin. In fact, one could re-name this play “The Battle of the Strong Black Women,” since the racial game played in the court pits Golden’s lawyer Ms. Allen (Shariba Rivers) and lawyer-witness Lorraine Jordan (Demetria Thomas) against Ms. Wades’ claims to innocence. Not that I don’t enjoy watching strong black women duke it out with each other, and these three actresses definitely give good dramatic conflict, but theirs is a battle that gives more heat than light.

Furthermore, it’s a game in which no one is fooled. Everyone knows Mr. Golden has hired a black woman as his lawyer to defeat any allegation of racism or sexism. Everyone knows Ms. Wade’s white lawyer, Mr. Lawton (Steven Pringle), has probably been hired for a similar reason. Racism has become all too predictable in American culture; likewise, defenses against racism emerge predictably. Sadly, that level of stale predictability dooms Defamation to being an interesting exercise, but not something that awakens and enlightens its audience—either to a more nuanced racial dynamic today or to a way out of our present racial malaise.

Rating: ★★½   

Extra Credit:


REVIEW: The Rant (Mary-Arrchie Theatre)

Mary-Arrchie’s ‘The Rant’ Illuminates and Devastates

Mary-Arrchie's "The Rant"

Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents:

The Rant

by Andrew Case
directed by Sharon Evans
Angel Island Theatre through March 28th (more info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Much about Andrew Case’s play The Rant masquerades as a typical cop show. There are interrogations with guys in police uniform across bare tables under unforgiving lights. All the same, the play’s dialogue is too whipsmart for television. It’s subject—an investigation of police misconduct—pushes beyond the conservative boundaries of cop/good-perp/bad formulas dominating network television. Finally, the sophisticated handling of media relations between public and police is all too knowing and wise.

rant2 Case invests eight years’ experience on police misconduct issues for New York City into this no-holds-barred one-act, and it shows—like a house on fire. The result is a sorely needed resuscitation of public dialogue on the hope of preserving justice in a system hideously compromised by racism, truncated by police cultural codes of loyalty and silence, and all too often cynically betrayed by the fourth estate.

Public Advocate Lila Mahnaz (Lindsey Pearlman) wants to get at the truth. The autistic son of Denise Reeves (Shariba Rivers) has been shot and killed during a police response to a call. Her own background as an Iranian Persian-American, informs her view of police behavior with jaundiced skepticism and almost revolutionary fervor. Her pursuit of the truth takes her down a winding road that exposes police corruption, the exploitation of and by the press, and the comprehendible, but frustrating, unreliability of witnesses. Her progress acts as a great meditation the difficulty of getting to the whole truth, encompassing many of the pitfalls of well-meaning advocacy.

Director Sharon Evans’ superlative cast nails this intelligent drama to the wall. Rivers’ aggrieved Denise, mother of the slain boy, packs a lifetime of angry suffering into every uttered syllable—it’s a weight she both resignedly shoulders and also wields as a weapon against her detractors. Pearlman’s public advocate displays the earnest pluck and self-righteousness of youth running smack into the roadblocks of police obfuscation and threats. At the same time, she is forced into confronting the barriers created by her own relatively privileged life. Earl Pastko as Mahnaz’s clandestine journalist contact, Alexander Stern, is perfectly sharp, jaded, neurotic, and totally New York. “I no longer believe in facts,” says Stern, “I believe in leverage.” Emanueal Buckley’s performance as Officer Charles Simmons potently rounds out the play. His sorrowful closing monologue seals the play’s mounting despair on the possibility of ever seeing justice done.

TheRant-Press1I’m of two minds about Heath Hays’ rough and ready set design. At times the primitively constructed flats—clear plastic stretched over wooden frames–serves Matthew Gawryk’s visceral lighting design superbly and fits the anarchist vibe of the Mary-Arrchie Theatre to a T. At other times it seems too ghetto-fabulous for its own good and there’s no need for that here. The play is already gritty and fabulous. The cast is rock-solid fabulous. Mary-Arrchie has a hit on its hands. Audiences should run, not walk, to see it.


Rating: ★★★★


Photos by Sharon Evans

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