REVIEW: reasons to be pretty (Profiles Theatre)

     
     

Profiles masterfully explores the power of being ‘pretty’ vs. ‘regular’

     
     

Darrel W. Cox and Darci Nalepa in Neil LaBute's 'reasons to be pretty' at Profiles Theatre.  Photo by Wayne Karl.

   
Profiles Theatre presents
  
reasons to be pretty
   
Written by Neil LaBute
Directed by
Rick Snyder 
at
Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway (map)
thru March 13  |  tickets: $35-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

He will hurt you. He’s a guy. It’s a done deal!

Profiles Theatre presents the Chicago premiere of reasons to be pretty.  Greg dates Steph. His best friend is Kent. Kent is married to Carly. Carly is best friends with Steph. Greg and Kent ogle over the new eye candy at work. Greg offhandedly compares her beautiful face to Steph’s ‘regular’ face. When a guy slams his girlfriend within earshot of her gal pal, the comment will be repeated and repeated and repeated. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. But what if the beholder has small, squinty eyes? And what’s ‘regular’ anyway? On the surface, reasons to be pretty is an unattractive expose on men’s shallow nature. At the heart of it, reasons to be pretty is one man’s quest to confront his own inner beauty.

Darrel W. Cox and Darci Nalepa in Neil LaBute's 'reasons to be pretty' at Profiles Theatre.  Photo by Wayne Karl.Playwright Neil LaBute keeps it real with machete-sharp dialogue and imperfect characters. LaBute creates a moment in a relationship and drops the audience into the crossfire. The banter engages so authentically that one feels as if they are in-the-room, wanting to interject a helpful ‘tell her….’ during the confrontations. Despite the various piercing altercations, the drama is funny. LaBute crafts in comedic lines to soften the blows. Director Rick Snyder keeps the wrath at a frenzy, interspersed with breaths of humor. Snyder paces the show tight with conversations quipping along and scene shifts signaled with a buzzard and minimal prop modification.

Profiles Theatre must pick their play choices to showcase the resident divo. reasons to be pretty follows the pattern. Darrell W. Cox is excellent! He starts and ends the play with monologues delivered so perfectly natural it creates an autobiographical feel. He struggles with guilt in a bumbling and endearing manner. LaBute wrote Steph and Carly as strong women. Some men might say ‘regular’ bitches but most women are more inclined to see them as inspiring. Darci Nalepa embraces and emboldens in a food court scene that is every female’s fantasy. Nalepa balances the vulnerability and confidence with glimpses of tears behind a veil of rage. Somer Benson (Carly) is a facade of smug self-righteousness pushing for the truth to be known. Although her words are always sharply direct, Benson quivers memorably facing her own worst fears. Christian Stolte (Kent) schmucks it up to a very unattractive level. Stolte is disgusting… as a vulgar, objectifying prick.

Color it, tweeze it, lift it… men may be the catalyst for the never-ending beauty quest, but the standard is mirrored by women. There is plenty of “reasons to be pretty”! There are even more “reasons to be pretty nice”! This show examines what’s going on below the surface in relationships and attitudes. The ugly truth is some people don’t think YOU are pretty enough. Seeing this show will help you determine if s/he is sitting next to you.

  
  

Rating: ★★★½

   
   

Darrell W. Cox, Christian Stolte and Somer Benson in Neil LaBute's 'reasons to be pretty' at Profiles Theatre.  Photo by Wayne Karl.

Production photos courtesy of Wayne Karl.

 reasons to be pretty, by by Neil LaBute, continues through March 13th at Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway.  Performance dates/times are Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 7pm.  Running Time: ninety minutes with no intermission.  More info at Profiles’ website.

 

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REVIEW: Killer Joe (Profiles Theatre)

Family Dysfunction Makes for a Good Dark Comedy

  killer-joe1

Profiles Theatre presents:

Killer Joe

 

by Tracy Letts
directed by Rick Snyder
thru February 28th (ticket info)

Review by Keith Ecker

I don’t think I’m going to create a controversy by saying Tracy Letts is one of the biggest deals in Chicago theatre. The man won a Pulitzer and a Tony for August: Osage County, his play Superior Donuts recently finished its run on Broadway, and he currently can be seen at the Steppenwolf, where he is an ensemble member, playing the hotheaded Teach in David Mamet’s American Buffalo (our review ★★★★).  He’s like a Chicago theater god, both in skill and his omnipresence.

Johnson, Bigley, Cox vert With all this acclaim and success, Letts’ name has become a hot commodity. And for theatres, producing one of his plays is a pretty safe bet for financial return. That’s why Profiles Theatre is smart to stage Letts’ 1991 trailer-trash tragedy, Killer Joe.

Killer Joe is a direct predecessor of August: Osage County. Thematically both pieces share many commonalities, including themes of family dysfunction, sexual abuse and death. Comparisons can be drawn on a more surface level, too, with Killer Joe taking place just a few hours south of Osage County in a trailer home outside of Dallas.

The play centers on an absurdly stereotypical Texas family. Their trailer home is a mess with remnants of last night’s McDonald’s meal scattered about the kitchen table, a pack of Marlboro cigarettes by the kitchen sink and a dog incessantly snarling and barking on the front lawn.

The father, Ansel (Howie Johnson) is a rotund man who feels most comfortable moping around in his underwear and watching NASCAR. When his son, Chris (Kevin Bigley), enters in a panic, begging for money to pay off a debt to a criminal, Ansel acts surprisingly nonchalant.

Cox, Johnson, Bigley, vertical Unfortunately there is no one else in the trailer who can help Chris out of his bind. Ansel’s second wife Sharla (Somer Benson), a woman who sees nothing unsightly about wearing a thong with low-rise jeans, is more concerned with herself than her own husband. Meanwhile Chris’ little sister Dottie (Claire Wellin) is the epitome of fragility and naiveté.

Self-reliant and having an affinity for schemes, Chris comes up with a plan to hire someone to kill his birth mother, a wretchedly abusive woman who has an insurance policy on her head for $50,000.

Enter Killer Joe Cooper (Darrell Cox), one part Dallas cop and one part hired killer. Joe is the quintessential man in black. He has a booming voice and intimidating, penetrating eyes. And although his price may be steep, he always guaranties to get the job done. Just don’t ask too many questions.

The play is an engaging tale that plays out like a redneck soap opera or a trailer park Shakespearean tragedy. Still, at times the characters can come across as one-dimensional. Ansel is a big dumb idiot; Chris is a hotheaded rebel and Sharla is a skank. Dottie, who takes on the role of the sacrificial virgin, is the one character that undergoes dramatic change throughout the course of the play. Somewhat of a dark comedy, when the humor hits, it’s tragically funny. But there’s a lot of grave seriousness too, including some uncomfortable but well staged scenes involving sex and violence.

Cox does a good job playing Joe’s multiple facets, from southern gent to cold-blooded killer. His performance makes it that much more shocking when Joe tosses aside his southern hospitality to reveal the psychopath that lies beneath. However, the younger actors, Bigley and Wellin, seemed to struggle reaching emotional depth. Bigley plays angry and frustrated well, but he seems to be stuck on a single gear. The same can be said for Wellin, except replace angry and frustrated with melancholy and aloof.

killer-joeSteppenwolf ensemble member Rick Snyder’s direction is magnificent. The theater is a small space flanked by the audience on either side. Cramming five actors into one scene is no easy task. But even in the most action-intense segments, the stage never seems overcrowded. In addition, scenes of violence and sexual abuse are not treated as gratuitous, but rather are staged in a manner that speaks to the core of the characters.

Killer Joe isn’t Letts’ most significant contribution to theatre. But it’s an entertaining play. Although not without a few flaws, Profiles Theatre’s production succeeds in adroitly transporting the audience to a tiny Texas trailer filled with family dysfunction.

 

Rating: ★★★½

Additional review: Chicago Examiner

Review – “Graceland” at Profiles Theatre

The highly-recommended "Graceland", now playing at Profiles Theatre

Graceland
By Ellen Fairey
Now extended through August 16th
Profiles Theatre

Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Four lonely lives in the northside of Chicago intersect in Ellen Fairey’s creative story Graceland. The buzzing of fighter jets flying high above in the air show and the non-stop mention of the characters displeasure with the new smoking ban reminds us that the story takes place here at home. Sara (Brenda Barrie) and Sam (Eric Burgher) are struggling to understand their father’s recent suicide, and to cope with their own isolated lives. Frequently taking place at Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery, the story touches on the loneliness that that one can feel even while surrounded by people in a large populated city.

HORIZONTALSara is a single middle-class woman with obvious interweaving personal problems, and layers of complicated worries that are untold to the audience. In the opening scene Brenda expresses a sense of anxiety that is within Sara. She speaks and scutters around as if she has so many thoughts running through her head that she is unable to articulate them all. Sara is bothered by her brother’s sense of indifference and she jumps from one topic to another trying to get an emotional reaction from her brother Sam. 

On the exterior Sam is an emotionally cool, even-keeled young adult who does not over-react to the highs and lows in life. He hides his pain with hits from his bowl and tries to act as the rational one in their time of crisis. Sam is also dealing with the loneliness caused by his father before he died, when his father started sleeping with his ex girlfriend Anna (Somer Benson.) Partially to drown their sorrows with a beer and in part to find out more information on their father, the two leave and head to a local northside dive bar that their Dad frequented often.

"Graceland", now being performed at Profiles Theatre Sara’s drunken night at the bar does nothing but worsen her complicated situation. She ends up going back for a night cap with a smooth talking divorced patron from the bar with the motive of finding out more information on her father, but her desire for companionship leads to more. Waking up from a one-night stand with Joe (Darell W. Cox) and wearing nothing but his Chicago Bulls warm-up shirt, she is surprised to run into a familiar boy she met at the cemetery.

Joe’s son Miles (Jackson Challinor) is an only child from a broken home. His loneliness is expressed in his openness with strangers and desire for deeper conversation. Even with Sara’s obvious discomfort, Miles is not shy in talking about his father’s sex life with her or his father’s previous ladies. He his open with his own flirtations and mature in his comfort with older woman, and this leads to trouble.

As the four lives collide, we see the pain of loneliness and the regretful paths that it can cause people to choose. We also see the significance of random encounters, and the importance of the brief connections we make with each other.

Ellen Fairey’s comedic drama entangles a variety of complications within the four characters (and a surprising fifth near the end) to depict the loneliness the can occur even while surrounded by others in a crowded city. Her story moves with constant new developments that keep the personal turmoil within the characters building. Her choice of Chicago’s northside as the setting for her play, makes it that much more enjoyable for Profiles Theatre’s hometown audience.

Matthew Miller direction of Graceland keeps the action simple, and allows the dialogue and story to move the plot along. Mikhail Fiksel must have really enjoyed his role in the play creating the fantastic sound effects of fighter jets screaming overhead. William Anderson’s choice in the smaller details, like the Chicago Cubs Pennants hanging in Joe’s apartment and the floor made to look like grass with slender sidewalks, create a simple yet realistic setting that allows the audience to imagine the scene that is surrounding the characters throughout the different acts.

I wonder about the motive of the consistent rants against the smoking-ban. The cast was allowed to smoke in the last play (Great Falls by Lee Blessing) that I attended at Profiles Theatre, and that was after the smoking-ban took effect, what changed? Were the negative comments regarding the smoking ban a statement by Profiles Theatre due to being forbidden to smoke within their own theatre, or was it part of the script to help identify with the attitude of many middle-class young adults? Something leads me to think this was a personal statement by Profiles Theatre. One that disagrees with the effects the smoking ban has on the realism of performing certain acts.

Overall all of the actresses and actors did a wonderful job of creating distinct individuals. Brenda Barrie gives Sara depth beyond her verbal dialogue. In the beginning of the performance the conversations between each actress/actor felt real and unscripted, although as the play ran on some of the lines came off overly practiced and without sincere emotion behind their words. With the exception of Erick Burgher, who from start to finish stood out with his focus and complete transformation in to his character (Sam.)

Due to popular demand Graceland has now been extended through August 16th, and starting July 11th there will be an additional Saturday Matinee at 5:00pm. This is a great opportunity to see a Chicago-based play that will make you laugh and keep you talking about the events that take place in the play long after you leave the theatre.

Rating: «««

Where: Profiles Theatre
When: through: August 16th
(Thurs, Fri, Sat at 8 pm/Sun 7 pm, Saturday Matinees at 5 pm on July 11, 18, 25, August 1, 8, 15)
Tickets: Buy online at www.profilestheatre.org or call (773) 549-1815

For complete actor bios, click on “Read more”

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