Review: Soul One (Clock Productions)

  
  

A meaningless trip through time

  
  

The cast from 'Soul One', being produced by Clock Productions at Natiional Pastime Theater

 
Clock Productions presents
  
Soul One
   
Written by Travis Hughes
Directed by Jessie Stratton
at National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway (map)
through April 30  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

There are some new plays that can benefit from readings, workshops and multiple productions. Even if they don’t quite work at first, they can continue to grow upon their strengths while fixing their weaknesses. And then, there are scripts that possibly need to be completely rebooted or scrapped all together. Travis HughesSoul One may unfortunately fall into the latter. Jessie Stratton’s direction of this new play with Clock Productions does it no favors. While there are some sparks of talent in this cast and the design, in the end, Hughes’ script provides a hollow jumbled journey that falls somewhere between bad sketch comedy and a 3am History Channel reenactment from the 90’s.

Travis Hughes’ muddled script is centered on a troubled rock star, Jack Straw (Ryan Hughes). Straw is tormented by his producer pressuring him to create a more “pop sound.” His solution is to fly off to the Caribbean where he hires three prostitutes, who just so happen to be able to sing and play instruments on command. The women in Hughes’ play are almost always of the submissive objectified type. From here, things get strange—but not in a fun way. Straw seemingly seeks help from a crackpot therapist (Chad Ramsey). Ramsey’s character, using “Hypnotherapy for Dummies,” puts Straw under hypnosis. This takes Straw back in time to the caveman era. After this, he travels to pseudo versions of Ancient Greece, Rome, the American West and the future. Each one of these scenarios is more nonsensical and underdeveloped than the previous. It appears Hughes’ purpose for this convention is to teach Straw the lesson that he should love his wife, but there is nothing of substance written for these characters to care whether he does or not.

The play opens as though this may be another character study on a troubled artist. We even get a heavily produced mock Behind the Music video. However, this play goes from overplayed to pointless. Hughes opts rather for one cringe worthy joke after another. The sophomoric humor falls flat and advances no story. Stratton’s direction halts the pacing to near unbearably slow. At points, literally nothing happens on stage for a good amount of time. There’s another moment where we simply sit and watch Ramsey blow bubbles in silence for almost a full minute. More salvageable, there are a handful of interchanges between characters that could almost hold their own in a more sketch comedy setting. The main issue with these moments in the play is that nothing is seemingly ever at stake. Ryan Hughes is not believable and is an extremely bland rock star with none of the eccentricities. Straw is written to be the world’s greatest rock frontman, yet, he doesn’t seem to ever sing, only speak lyrics in a rhythmic monotone. Ryan Hughes is doubled by his brother, Travis Hughes, as the “time travelling version” of the character. Hughes comes off much better as an actor in these segments than he does as the writer of frequently flat dialogue.

There is very little rock music played live for a play that is largely billed as a story about a rock star. However, Nikos Brisco demonstrates some skillful guitar playing that could have benefited from more stage time. Also, the female actors clearly have some wonderful talent that isn’t getting tapped in this production, particularly a charming Gemma Crowley. However, the women are consistently utilized as the butt of dull and somewhat misogynistic jokes and are never given an ounce of dimension. Stratton’s video design is polished, but the video-centric director relies too heavily on the projections. Also notable, costume designer Sienna Macedon pulls off her job admirably, providing the only clear indication of what time period we are in.

In addition to script flaws, the overall production lacks clarity and appears under-rehearsed with no polish to timing and pace. Ultimately, the play suffers from an identity crisis on all ends in regards to what type of play this is. There exists a lack of focus on any particular action or storyline. Ramsey, as the psychiatrist, states at the end of the two hours, “Time is meaningless.” Apparently, the same goes for the audience’s time spent.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

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Soul One continues at National Pastime Theater through April 30th, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, and Sundays at 3pm.  No Performances on Easter Weekend. Tickets are $15 and may be purchased online or by calling 773.327.7077.  More info at clockproductions.com.

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REVIEW: I Do! I Do! (Light Opera Works)

 

Dated musical extols institution on life-support

 

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Light Opera Works presents
   
I Do!  I Do!
   
Music by Harvey Schmidt
Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones
Directed by Rudy Hogenmiller
Music direction by Roger L. Bingaman and Linda Slein
McGaw Children’s Center Auditorium, Evanston (map)
Through November 14  | 
tickets: $27-$42*  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

It’s not only its historic setting that makes I Do! I Do! seem dated.

Marriage — the till-death-do-us-part style — is more and more passé. Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that the number of young adults who’ve never married rose from 35 percent in 2000 to 46 percent in 2009. Among all Americans ages 18 and older, the proportion of those married dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2009 — the lowest percentage ever recorded.

Catherine Lord and Larry Adams - Light Opera Works - I Do I Do 006 Of those couples who do marry, at least half eventually divorce. Adultery is rife — the news is full of stories about philandering celebrities and politicians — and some studies estimate that as many as 45 to 55 percent of married people cheat on their spouses.

In times like these, how relevant can a sentimental musical about a 50-year-long marriage be?

Based on Jan de Hartog’s 1951 Broadway hit The Fourposter, Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones’ tender, two-piano, two-character musical, currently in revival by Evanston’s Light Opera Works, follows Michael and Agnes from their wedding at the turn of the 20th century through their five decades of married life. The action mainly revolves around their four-posted marriage bed, although its presence is more symbolic than titillating. We watch them through wedding-night nerves, the birth and rearing of children, squabbles and reconciliations, his brief extramarital affair, her mid-life crisis and their ultimate retirement, a story told mainly in a series of schmaltzy duets punctuated by occasional solos, recitatives and a judicious amount of dialogue.

In 1966, when I Do! I Do! premiered on Broadway, the divorce rate was just 27.4 percent, and roughly 80 percent of U.S. adults were married. You have to wonder what today’s large number of never marrieds, divorced and gays and lesbians are going to get out of this paean to old-fashioned, traditional marriage.

Michael and Agnes no longer represent the universal, generic twosome they once did, even among the married. Few today still follow the male wage earner-female homemaker model at the root of some of this couple’s tiffs. Married life has become much more complex.

 

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Yet although dated in its subject matter, I Do! I Do! remains fresh in its intimate format — a two-person musical was ahead of its time in the 1960s. Schmidt’s sweet and bouncy but repetitive melodies and Jones’ simplistic sentiments — "Marriage is a very good thing, though it’s far from easy" — sometimes verge on cloying, but several of the songs have appeal, notably "I Love My Wife," Michael’s acknowledgement of how unfashionable it is, the upbeat "Love Isn’t Everything" and the comic "Nobody’s Perfect" in Act I and the poignant lament about aging, "Where are the Snows?" and the love song, "My Cup Runneth Over" in Act II. In Light Opera Works’ production, music directors Roger L. Bingaman and Linda Slein double on the dual pianos, occasionally a little muddy but capably over all.

Veteran actors Catherine Lord and Larry Adams make this production worthwhile. Lord’s beautifully timed, wonderfully funny and highly expressive performance as the often-dissatisfied Agnes gives the show some real spice. She acts with every part of her body. Adams’ rich baritone elevates the score.

If you’re looking forward to your wedding, an optimistic young married or about to celebrate your umpty-umpth wedding anniversary, this bittersweet and nostalgic musical may be just the excuse that you’re looking for to have an evening out holding hands with your honey. For many, though, I Do! I Do! describes a life so alien it might as well be science fiction.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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*age 21and younger are half price.

   
   

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REVIEW: Carousel (Light Opera Works)

Industrial Strength Nostalgia

 

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Light Opera Works presents
   
Carousel
  
Written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein
Directed by Stacey Flaster
at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston (map)
through August 29 |  tickets: $32-$77  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Some candies may melt in your mouth, but practically every song in this glorious 1945 gem of heartfelt Americana melts in your heart. Filled with what’s now post-war nostalgia for an even simpler America (a sea town in Maine in the late 19th century), Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lovely and loving masterwork is an inspired reworking of Ferenc Molnari’s Liliom, a knowing drama about an abusive husband who’s given one last—posthumous—chance to redeem himself to the wife he abused and the daughter he never knew but still might save.

Maybe because it’s hard to believe in 2010 that a husband can “hit [his wife] so hard and still not have it hurt” (as Billy Bigelow supposedly does to the too trusting Julie Jordan), the seemingly tender plot of this beloved musical Carousel can also register an ugly shock of recognition. It’s nothing like the vicious menace that Jud Fry offers   Laurie and Curly in the earlier hit Oklahoma!  But this is even closer for discomfort–domestic violence Carousel Light Opera Works Chicago 01nurtured by Billy’s need to strike out at anyone but at the real threat, the loser he feels he is.

The question of whether carnival-barker Billy Bigelow will find posthumous redemption–by offering a star to the daughter he never knew–seems less important than the fact that soon after this unreformed bruiser returns to earth, the abuser slaps his daughter, as he did her mother 15 years before. If he helps his daughter Louise, it doesn’t happen on stage. And this, though Billy knows that his return to the living (like Jimmy Stewart’s in a film from the same year) is his one chance to make up for the cruelty and crimes that shortened his earthly sojourn–and escape the pangs of hell.

Writing about the recent Broadway revival of Carousel, the late William A. Henry III dismissed the 1945 classic as a musical where nothing important happens when it should and in which a rotter’s reformation occurs after it’s too late to matter.

But that’s the lure that drew Oscar Hammerstein to Ferenc Molnar’s Liliom: We need to believe that, unlike letters, love is never lost.

Refusing to dispute her dependency ("What’s The Use of Wondr’rin’?"), Julie Jordan, a lovestruck Victorian millgirl, clings to her seemingly worthless Billy. In real life, Julie’s dogged devotion to a thug would gain her a worse beating. But the musical’s make-believe, plus the powerful persuasion of a deathless anthem like "You’ll Never Walk Alone," improves on fact–at least until you think of Simpson.

Sturdy and sometimes impassioned, Light Opera Works’ revival – very down to earth and up to heaven, unlike the famous and deliriously lyrical Lincoln Center revival of a decade ago – finds a strong moment at the start: The famous waltz accompanies the millgirls’ happy deliverance from work and riotous escape to the carnival, complete with the title amusement. That–and the passionate “dream” dance duo between Nicole Miller and Todd Rhodes–are superb bookends for a literally moving musical.

Carousel Light Opera Works Chicago 05The casting seems made to matter. Cooper David Grodin makes a lean and menacing Billy, with a body language as confident as his tenor and more so than his acting. (He’s trying so hard to be tough that we miss the tenderness that clearly draws Julie to this “bad boy.”) Innocent until ardent, Natalie Ford gives Julie the pole-axed passion that makes this unschooled woman endure so much for her premature prince. But since they don’t connect when it counts–in the wonderful 11-minute "bench scene" that blooms into "If I Loved You"–it’s hard to wish them a second chance.

Ably inhabiting the supporting roles, Elizabeth Lanza enjoys her merry moments as conventional Carrie, a millgirl who enters into a risk-free contract with proper Yankee entrepreneur Enoch Snow (played with gawky rectitude by George Keating). As maternal Aunt Nettie, Winifred Faix Brown makes much of the unstoppable anthem "You’ll Never Walk Alone." Katherine L. Condit as Billy’s true soulmate, the randy Mrs. Mullin, and Jeremy Trager as his nemesis Jigger Craigin suggest the dark side of Billy Bigelow that Julie alone can’t tame. Happily, that doesn’t apply to the musical itself. These songs are surefire charmers and mellow a plot that almost too abruptly changes from flinty New England realism to moonspun and quicksilver wishful thinking. But then “What’s the Use of Wond’rin?”

   
   
Rating: ★★★
     
     

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Extra Credit:

   
   

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