REVIEW: The DNA Trail (Silk Road Theatre Project)

Silk Road’s “DNA Trail” doesn’t lead far

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Silk Road Theatre Project presents
 
The DNA Trail
 

Conceived by Jamil Khoury
Directed by Steve Scott
Featuring plays by: Philip Kan Gotanda, Velina Hasu Houston, David Henry Hwang, Jamil Khoury, Shishir Kurup, Lina Patel, and Elizabeth Wong
at
Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington (map)
through April 4th (more info)

reviewed by Barry Eitel

The foundational concept behind Silk Road Theatre Project’s The DNA Trail is an inspired one. Seven playwrights of Asian descent have their cheeks swabbed. Those little swabs are analyzed by DNA researchers. The results reveal the ancestral background of each playwright, even pointing as far back as the original cradle of humanity, East Africa. Then the experience is mined for theatrical gold. Each playwright is obliged to write a short piece about the results, the experience, or really anything relating to ancestry, genealogy, or the study of DNA. The whole process is a bold mingling of science and the arts, two forces that should be linked together more often.

dna-trail1 With such a dashing idea, the production could’ve been enlightening. Unfortunately, the results are tepid and meandering, leaving much to be desired.

The seven playwrights are Philip Kan Gotanda, Velina Hasu Houston, Tony-award winner (and Pulitzer finalist) David Henry Hwang, Silk Road artistic director Jamil Khoury, Shishir Kurup, Lina Patel, and Elizabeth Wong. The whole hullabaloo was directed by Steve Scott. The plays range from family dramas, wild farces, and bizarre journeys into the mitochondria.

The last play of the night, Child is Father to Man by Philip Kan Gotanda, is by far the best. It is a one-man show, honestly and thoughtfully performed by Khurram Mozaffar. Gotanda’s play is a meditation on the death of a father, with the son wondering about their relationship, the qualities that are inherited through bloodline, and the qualities that are shaped by life. It’s simple, straightforward, and beautiful. The play proves that something substantial can be accomplished with so few pages. If only this came through in the other short works.

Wong’s Finding Your Inner Zulu is a cute start to the night, but fails to make a real impact. Revolving around two estranged sisters, breast cancer, and a moon goddess, Houston’s Mother Road, leaves the audience behind in confusion after a few minutes. Kurup’s Bolt from the Blue has the same effect. The 12-15 minute play is actually a pretty difficult medium, and Houston and Kurup overextend themselves.

Khoury’s WASP: White Arab Slovak Pole is funny and revealing. Clayton Stamper plays Khoury himself, who deals with the fact that he is a white guy named ‘Jamil.’ The play, through direct address and several scenes, sheds some light on the mission and founding of Silk Road Theatre Project, an interesting by-product of the piece. That Could Be You, Patel’s contribution, dramatizes the science behind DNA in a pretty hilarious way. I was disappointed by Hwang’s piece, A Very DNA Reunion, a homage to the history-defying first act of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls but lacking the bite.

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Scott’s direction is top notch and Lee Keenan’s lights and set are remarkable. The ensemble includes Mozaffar, Stamper, Jennifer Shin, Cora Vander Broek, Melissa Kong, Fawzia Mirza, and Anthony Peeples, and all of the actors do a decent job juggling between each individual show. There is obviously a lot of talent going into this production from nearly every angle. On the whole, the texts just aren’t strong enough to support.

Some of the writers are too married to the project, like Wong and Hwang. Taken out of this specific context, some of the plays wouldn’t work as stand-alone pieces. If we didn’t already know the Trail’s process, a couple would seem oddly obscure. But because the process is revealed in the program, they feel redundant. If everyone could abstract and interpret the project as well as Gotanda, this would be a winning short play festival. When the topic is as significant as the building blocks that make us human beings, Silk Road could have delivered so much more.

 
Rating: ★★
 

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Stuart Carden appointed Writers’ Theatre Associate AD

StuartCarden Writers’ Theatre has appointed Stuart Carden associate artistic director.

I’m so excited to be in collaboration with Stuart,” said Michael Halberstam, executive director the Writers’. “He has a rich background in literary development, a keen and ambitious scope of work as a director and a passion for the administrative challenges that come with supporting artistic direction. In a very short time I believe we will see Stuart’s strength of perspective and influence find its way onto the stages of Writers’ Theatre.”

Says Carden:

“I’m thrilled to be back home in the thriving Chicago theatre community as Writers’ Theatre’s new associate artistic director. Michael Halberstam and Kathryn Lipuma have created something extraordinary in Glencoe and I’m honored to join the passionate and vibrant group of artists and theater-makers that call Writers’ home. Through the course of my career my theatrical raison d’être has been helping bring new and diverse voices to the stage and I’m looking forward to bringing that passion for new work to Writers’ exciting Literary Development Initiative.”

Stuart Carden joins Writers’ Theatre as associate artistic director after two seasons at City Theatre Company in Pittsburgh where he was associate artistic director. As a new play specialist, Stuart has helped to develop over thirty plays, twelve of which he directed in their world premiere productions. Notable regional, U.S., and world premieres include works by Martin Crimp, David Henry Hwang, Tristine Skyler, Jeffrey Hatcher, Shishir Kurup, Richard Dresser and Yussef El Guindi. Last season his production of Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis garnered five Kevin Kline nominations including “Outstanding Production” and “Outstanding Director.”

In Chicago he directed the world premiere production of Shishir Kurup’s The Merchant on Venice at Silk Road Theatre Project, which was named one of the top ten plays of 2007 by the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Time Out Chicago. Other recent new play work includes directing Mary’s Wedding, The Pillowman, Stones in his Pockets, A Picasso, The Moonlight Room, 10 Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith, Big Love and Back of the Throat. Classical and classically inspired directing projects include The False Servant, Spring Awakening, Life is a Dream, The Crucible, The Game of Love and Chance, Miss Julie, A Streetcar Named Desire and his own adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s Diary of a Madman.

Stuart has taught acting, directing and movement at Carnegie Mellon University, The Hartt School, Loyola University, Beloit College and Act One Studios. He holds an M.F.A. in directing from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. In the 2009/10 season Stuart is slated to direct David Harrower’s Blackbird at City Theatre Company and a play very familiar to Writers’ Theatre audiences, Crime and Punishment adapted by Curt Columbus and Marilyn Campbell, at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

For more info about the Writers’ Theatre, please visit www.writerstheatre

h/t BroadwayWorld.com

2008 After Dark Awards Announced!

Gay Chicago Magazine has just announced this year’s After Dark AwardsBelow is an abbreviated list.  For the complete list, as well as production photos, go to Venus Zarris’s website: Chicago State Review

 

2008 After Dark Awards.  For more information go to ChicagoStageReviews.com

Best Production

Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

The Mark of Zorro (Lifeline Theatre)

Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)

 

Outstanding New Work

Sarah Ruhl – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Anna CariniSweet Confinement (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Tracy LettsSuperior Donuts (Steppenwolf Theatre)

 

Outstanding Adaptation

Shishir KurupMerchant on Venice (Silk Road Project)

Devon de Mayo and Ensemble – As Told By The Vivian Girls (Dog & Pony Theatre)

 

Outstanding Musical

Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)

 

Outstanding Direction

David Cromer – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

John MossmanJuno and the Paycock (Artistic Home)

Anna Bahow – Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Peter Robel – Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)

 

Outstanding Direction of a Musical

Fred Anzevino – “Cabaret” and Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)

 

Outstanding Musical Direction

Joshua Stephen Kartes – Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)

 

Outstanding Performance in a Play

Jennifer Grace – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

Mark Ulrich – Juno and the Paycock  (Artistic Home)

Nicole Wiesner – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Keland Scher – Much Ado About Nothing  (First Folio Theatre)

Madeline Long – Soldiers: The Desert Stand (LiveWire Chicago Theatre)

Sadieh Rafai – Speech and Debate (American Theatre Company)

Jeremy Sher – Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)

Annabel Armour – Fiction  (Remy Bumppo)

Jenn Remke – Resort 76  (Infamous Commonwealth)

Andy Hager – Red Light Winter (Thunder and Lightning Ensemble)

Polly Noonan – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts  (Goodman Theatre)

Nick Vatterott – Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy  (Annoyance Theatre)

Adam Kander – The Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)

 

Outstanding Performance in a Musical or Review

E. Faye Butler – Ain’t Misbehavin’   (Goodman Theatre)

Kat McDonnell – Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)

Summer Smart – Sweet Charity  (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Bethany Thomas – Nine  (Porchlight Music Theatre)

 

Outstanding Ensemble

Emma  (Trapdoor Theatre)

As Told by the Vivian Girls  (Dog & Pony Theatre)

Juno and the Paycock  (The Artistic Home)

Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Superior Donuts  (Steppenwolf Theatre)

 

For the complete listing of all 2008 After Dark Awards, including full descriptions and great pictures, go to my friend Venus Zarris’s theatre blog: www.chicagostagereview.com.   Go Venus!!

“Merchant On Venice” extended through November 18

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One of my favorite theatre companies, Silk Road Theatre Project, has extended their current show, a world-premier of the play Merchant on Venice, written by Shishir Kurup and directed by Stuart Carden. On their website, Silk Road Theatre Project describes the play this way:

Venice, Italy intersects with L.A.’s Venice Boulevard in a wickedly funny, wildly inventive and politically provocative re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Written in iambic pentameter and vividly colored by Indian, American and Latino pop references, playwright Kurup transforms Shakespeare’s original by injecting the story with Bollywood musical numbers, L.A. Punk, Hindu-Muslim tensions, and a distinctly American landscape.

You can find out more about this production at SRTP’s blog.

This play has been highly-recommended by a number of reviewers, including Venus Harris at Gay Chicago Magazine, who said:

Once again, Silk Road fearlessly tackles misconceptions and misrepresentations as only the arts can.  Merchant on Venice is not only exceptionally ingenious in its reinterpretation of this classic tale of brutal bigotry and revenge, but serves the purpose of illuminating the overlooked and thereby emancipating the general perceptions of our all too homogenized body-politic.  Those are some lofty accomplishments in and of themselves, but add to that a theatrical experience that is blissfully entertaining, and you have a unique marvel not to be missed.

Luckily theatre-goers have been given more time to fit the show into their schedule!