REVIEW: Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Polarity Ensemble)

  
   

This ‘Journey’ lacks propulsion

 

 

Long Days Journey - Polarity 002

   
Polarity Ensemble presents
    
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
    
Written by Eugene O’Neill
Directed by
Susan Padveen
at
Josephinum, 1500 N. Bell (map)
through Dec. 5  |  tickets: $10-$19  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, one of the most important plays in the American canon, is a marathon experience. Four acts, four actors (mostly), and enough substance abuse to melt your liver. Clocking in at almost four hours, the bulky play is rarely done. Polarity Ensemble has bravely engaged with the monster, opening their season with the highly-biographical play. The spark driving this production is dim, causing the world to feel artificial. Considering the challenges, however, Polarity and director Susan Padveen should be commended.

Long Days Journey - Polarity 011Long Day’s Journey can be seen as O’Neill’s love letter to the theatre. Alternatively, it could also be seen as a suicide note.

The play is based on O’Neill’s family life, one that is accustomed to second-rate hotels and late night trains. The father of both the real-life O’Neill and Edmond, his doppelganger in his story, played the lead in a perpetually touring production of The Count of Monte Cristo for thousands of performances. In Long Day’s Journey, the stress of the road has shredded apart Edmond’s family, along with cheap doctors, alcoholism, and a mother with a nasty morphine addiction.

Somewhat surprisingly, the play reads like a living, breathing text rather than a starchy closet drama. O’Neill never saw the play staged. He finished it, threw it in a vault, and said it could only be published a quarter-century after his death. His wishes were subverted, though, and the play saw the light of the day only three years after he was buried. It was met with enormous acclaim, won Eugene a posthumous Pulitzer Prize, and now is required reading for any lover of American theatre. O’Neill’s memories are made watchable because of his charming wit and penchant for writing scorching conflicts which are constantly poked and resuscitated.

After sitting through that crushing diurnal cycle at Polarity’s space, you aren’t left snoring. But you aren’t left electrified, either. The cast shies away from the play’s essential weightiness. They never look comfortable just letting themselves sit immersed in the Tyrone’s dysfunction. The actors can’t get across the giant, swerving egos the script requires.

Long Days Journey - Polarity 013 Long Days Journey - Polarity 012
Long Days Journey - Polarity 003 Long Days Journey - Polarity 019

Kevin Kenneally is patriarch James. The role is perhaps the most difficult in the tale. He has probably the most stage time, and the hardest journey: watching the aftershocks of a family he had a major hand in destroying. Keanneally cannot plug into the raw power needed for James. For the most part, Keanneally steers his James well. But when the cards are down and pretenses have broken apart, he often retreats into vulnerability, as opposed to struggling to paint over his sensitivity with anger and disappointment.

Caroline Dodge Latta as James’ wife, Mary, fares better. She particularly shines in the last moments, where she brings down the house with one of my favorite monologues of all time. The two brothers are the most interesting piece of the cast. Bryan Breau’s Edmond and Eric Damon Smith’s whiskey-soaked Jamie spar with zest, even if some of the stakes aren’t high enough.

Long Day’s Journey into Night is a powerhouse play. Requiring thorough, battle-ready actors, the experience should be a punch in the throat. Padveen’s production is not a powerhouse. The lying isn’t believable enough, the delusions aren’t thick enough, and the family’s utter inability to communicate isn’t fully fleshed-out. The volatility needs to be wrenched up. O’Neill allows little room for tepidness.

That being said, Polarity could have done much, much, much worse. The major themes all bleed out, leaving plenty to ponder after the night finally arrives. Padveen’s production sucks the breath from you. But O’Neill’s incendiary script can knock you cold.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
       
     

Continue reading

REVIEW: Too Much Memory (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

A Terrible Beauty Is Born

 

Antigone (Anna Carini, foreground) illegally burries her brother despite the opposition of her family and the people (standing, from left to right, Dominica Fisher as Chorus, Ebony Wimbs as Jones, Calliope Porter as Eurydice, Jeremy Fisher as Barnes, Brett Schneider as Haemon and Cyd Blakewell as Ismene), in SiNNERMAN Ensemble's Midwest premiere of “Too Much Memory,” Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson's explosive contemporary adaptation of the Greek Antigone tragedy, directed by Anna C. Bahow, October 7-November 13, 2010. Photo by Kevin Viol.

   
 SiNNERMAN Ensemble presents
      
Too Much Memory
       
Written by Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson
Directed by
Anna C. Bahow
at
The Side Project, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
Through Nov. 13  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

The Greek legend that recounts Antigone’s defiance of the tyrant Creon resonates through the centuries. It seems painfully real today because there’s nothing black-and-white about this conflict between anarchy versus order, justice versus law, and religion versus the state. Sophocles’ tragedy makes us see both sides (and sometimes switch them as we watch). Antigone is driven to bury her disgraced brother, a rebel against Creon’s Corinth, so that he may reach the afterlife–so much so that she will accept, and even welcome, martyrdom. Creon cannot permit this rebel to become, even in death, a rallying point for rebellion.

Antigone (Anna Carini, bottom left) buries her brother in defiance of her uncle Creon's law and he attempts to maintain control (standing, from left to right: Calliope Porter as Eurydice, Jeremy Fisher as Barnes, Howie Johnson as Creon, Ebony Wimbs as Jones, Brett Schneider as Haemon, Dominica Fisher as Chorus and Cyd Blakewell as Ismene), in SiNNERMAN Ensemble's Midwest premiere of “Too Much Memory,” Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson's explosive contemporary adaptation of the Greek Antigone tragedy, directed by Anna C. Bahow, October 7-November 13, 2010. Photo by Kevin Viol. Even though these implacable adversaries cannot compromise, the audience sees this as a complex conflict between powerful and often necessary forces—law and order against the constant fight for freedom. In Sinnerman Ensemble’s Midwest premiere of this updated version by topical playwrights Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson, the ancient struggle is colloquially new, with references to torture (Antigone is waterboarded), the media (the chorus, Domenica Fisher, is an on-site TV reporter who can only digest “news bites”), political trappings (Antigone and Creon attack each other on a closed-circuit feed), and Iraq and Afghanistan (the soldiers are confused about their mission or the morality of their superiors). But Antigone and Creon are united by one thing: Each declares, “I have no choice.” Each wants to belong to something greater than themselves, but ultimately they stand or fall on who they are and what they do.

Calling itself “an adaptation of an adaptation of a retranslation,” this new 80-minute version wants to both distance us from the original Athenian premiere (there’s even a strange exchange in French between the principal lovers) and to bring it home with a vengeance. In Anna Bahow’s well-tempered staging Howie Johnson plays Creon as a big-city boss with a very guilty conscience. Brett Schneider, as Creon’s son and Antigone’s fiancé Haemon, is helpless to mediate between his father and his lover. Likewise, as Antigone’s more practical (and surviving) sister Ismene, Cyd Blakewell haplessly agonizes from the sidelines.

Giving voice to a previously silent character, Calliope Porter as Creon’s much neglected wife registers her fury at being taken for granted until she’s forgotten altogether. Equally humanizing is the authors’ treatment of Jones (Ebony Wimbs), a soldier who finds more in common with Antigone than she ever expected.

 

Too Much Memory_03 Too Much Memory_06

Then there’s Anna Carini’s daredevil Antigone, a coiled and almost cool fanatic improbably bent on the ritual sacrifice of her own life to protect a dead brother. She defies logic as much as she does Creon and, as Yeats said about the Irish guerrillas who fought the English, “A terrible beauty is born.” Antigone is not that far in style or substance from the suicide bombers of religious terrorism. She’s part of our world in more ways than one: When she delivers her final loving farewell to Haemon (via the video camera of Jones’ cellphone), it’s strangely touching as well as technological.

That’s the point of an updating that, strangely enough, may in a few years seem more dated than Sophocles’ timeless telling. Keeping it real doesn’t always mean keeping it new. Still, right now it’s got the common touch and needs no translation. The irony, however, of Too Much Memory is that for many audience members the original story of how Oedipus’ daughter sought and met her doom may well be forgotten. Better to refresh your own memory before seeing this very 2010 retelling of a young extremist’s date with death.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Haemon's fights back when his father Creon condemns Haemon's fiance, Antigone, to death (from left to right, Ebony Wimbs as Jones, Brett Schneider as Haemon, Jeremy Fisher as Barnes, Howie Johnson as Creon and Calliope Porter as Eurydice), in SiNNERMAN Ensemble's Midwest premiere of “Too Much Memory,” Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson's explosive contemporary adaptation of the Greek Antigone tragedy, directed by Anna C. Bahow, October 7-November 13, 2010. Photo by Kevin Viol.

 

Continue reading

REVIEW: Effie (The Neapolitans)

When ‘Gossip Girl’ meets Orwell’s 1984

effie-poster

 
The Neapolitans present
 
Effie
 
by Cory Tamler
directed by Brea Hayes
at EP Theater, 1820 S. Halsted (map)
thru May 9th  |  tickets: $10-$20  |  more info

So many things go wrong with The Neapolitans’ production of Effie. Written by Cory Tamler and directed by Brea Hayes, they attempt a modern retelling of EuripidesIphigenia, wherein Agamemnon is President of the United States, Clytemnestra, or Clyta (Anna Carini) is First Lady, Achillles (Andrew Burden Swanson) is their daughter’s fiancé, and Iphigenia, or Effie (Hilary Williams), is the sacrificial victim. On stage at EP Theatre, it’s a premise we are all meant to take seriously—no comedy, satire or irony here. The play is meant to have modern political and social import because, in this dystopian fantasy of America, the bombings of the Twin Towers on 9/11 were not the end. Instead, in Effie, terrorists have hit city after city, reducing America to an unstable wreck of a security-compromised nation.

effie-poster How like Iraq. A couple of years ago, I read an essay by an Iraqi journalist about the trials and tribulations of trying to drive to work in the morning in Baghdad. Just getting from point A to point B meant driving through a gauntlet of checkpoints at which terrorist attacks could take place at any moment. In fact, being stopped at a checkpoint made one more vulnerable to attack. He wrote of his daily experience that the moment of attack would be unknown, the type of attack was unknown, the group behind the attack was unknown, and the reasons for the attack were unknown.

The stiff and drawn-out exposition at the beginning of Effie attempts, but fails, to establish the tone of danger and uncertainty in the state of the nation. Plus, such striking similarities between this play’s dystopian USA and recent daily life in Iraq go completely unacknowledged, leaving it utterly untapped for dramatic resonance.

On with the premise: as a last ditch effort to save America from the terrorists, Agamemnon calls on his daughter to become the first suicide bomber—a lovely symbolic gesture that the government hopes will inspire other Americans, perhaps especially young Americans, to become suicide bombers. Near the end of the play, crowds gather to urge Effie on to her glorious, patriotic fate. In the end, just as in Euripides’ classic, Effie willingly submits herself with some protestation, some tears, but not too much ado.

This story has been told many times before and in much better ways. In fact, this version makes me tremble in terror—not that our country could end up like this—but that the playwright and the producers themselves seem so blindly obsessed with romancing the jihad – Christian style. Without irony it asks what would get people to commit the ultimate sacrifice for their country—as if there aren’t Americans already sacrificing for their country now. Well, mostly poor and working class Americans are, but let’s come back to that later.

This play depicts NO dissent, raised in any coherent or consistent manner, against the suicide bomber notion. NO characters provide decent counterpoint as to whether suicide bombing is needed. More importantly, no character asks whether suicide bombing will actually stop terrorist attack. NOTHING politically aware or militarily feasible penetrates the bubble around this tawdry melodrama about an elite family. (I mean, the military has developed drones for attack. Why turn to live suicide bombers?) Yet the audience is called upon to take their melodrama and its political possibilities seriously. Finally, the work is rife with all the self-absorption of “Gossip Girl” — again without a scintilla of irony or a hint of fun.

Tragically, the Neapolitans are in way over their heads with this retelling—but are they even aware how far and how deeply they have stepped in it? At one point, Achilles, Effie’s fiancé, lectures her on the value of knowing history. Then he proceeds to say that nothing happened during the Cold War, it was all a stalemate. There is no counterpoint to this statement; again, nothing indicates that the audience should take it ironically. Everything points to giving Achilles’ dialogue credibility.

Really? Nothing happened during the Cold War? A little thing called Vietnam happened during the Cold War–it happened because of the Cold War. Furthermore, America’s active participation with troops in Vietnam began with a little thing called the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. On August 4, 1964, President Johnson went before the American people and pronounced that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had twice fired on an American destroyer in an unprovoked attack in the Gulf of Tonkin. It was a lie. It was a lie that the American media then ran with. It was a lie that started Vietnam for real for Americans and ended up sacrificing 50,000 American lives–most of them averaging 18 years of age.

Young people are always being asked to sacrifice their lives by older people who start and maintain wars–conventional wars or the War On Terror. It’s just that privileged young people usually get exempted from having to make that sacrifice. Is that what makes Effie’s sacrifice special?–that she’s a rich, privileged, sheltered and self-absorbed teenager being called to a sacrifice that’s de rigueur for poor and working class kids during times of war? If Effie’s being called to sacrifice, is it because all the drones have failed and all the poor and working class kids have already died in the war and now the country must use her to rally the youth of the upper classes–if they haven’t escaped to Canada already?

Have The Neapolitans really thought this thing through?

Let us kindly rename this play a work in progress, not a “world premiere,” as touted in the press release. If there is one scene worth salvaging for further development, it’s the one in which Effie realizes, “I don’t get to be a person . . . I’m such a pawn, I might as well be made of plastic.” That moment is golden.

Hilary Williams pulls out the stops to play Effie sympathetically, without denying her character’s total self-absorption. Anna Carini makes one tough, stylish, dangerous, and maternally flawed Clytemnestra. The Chorus (Brandon Thompson and Danielle Maihoffer) takes a while to warm up. Awkward exposition provides many speed bumps for them through the beginning of the play. But the cleverness of their presence in the piece eventually reveals itself; their final sections are also worth saving. As Achilles, Swanson is given the burden of pronouncing that ridiculous dialogue about knowing your history. The scene between Achilles and Clyta also bogs down under maudlin melodramatic weight. It is truly difficult to tell if the fault is in the dialogue or the acting.

Stefin Stebert’s production design provides some style in costuming and a decidedly stylish upper class apartment for the set. Alas, good style cannot save Effie in its current incarnation.

What if peace could be guaranteed by the sacrifice of one human life? What if the life were yours?” Such is the statement printed in bold graphics on the cover of the play’s program. I think The Neapolitans are being deeply sincere in asking that question.

Well, if peace really and truly can be guaranteed by the sacrifice of one human life—as The Neapolitans suggest it can–then that life is not going to be mine. If an unaware, apolitical, 16-year-old girl from a twisted political family will take my place, so much the better. If she is so plastic, she allows herself to be led to the slaughter even when the alternative lies right at her elbow, well then bon voyage. If she is so ignorant of history, she can’t even detect the ignorance of her fiancé while he lectures her about being ignorant of history, then perhaps she was too sheltered or stupid to survive in this world anyway. Daddy is sacrificing you; Mom is sleeping with your boyfriend; and your pontificating boyfriend has been fucking you and your mother at the same time. Maybe it is time to die.

That death may indeed be tragic, but you can’t make me care about the life that is being sacrificed. Not when real people’s lives are being sacrificed to the two wars we are currently in and with an economic crisis brought on our heads by financial elites playing with our future.

 
 
Rating:  ★½
 
 

 

Continue reading

REVIEW: Days of Late (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

The quandaries of modern love

 

DaysOfLate7

 
SiNNERMAN Ensemble presents
 
Days of Late
 
Written/directed by Braden LuBell
at
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western (map)
through May 22nd | tickets: $15-$20 | more info

reviewed  by K.D. Hopkins

SiNNERMAN Ensemble has produced a quirky and intense expose of life and love among the twenty to thirty-something generation. Days of Late lays bare the labyrinth that relationships have become in the electronic age. Written and directed by Braden LuBell, Days of Late features a remarkable ensemble.

DaysOfLate4 Navigating the path to relationship has become an inorganic process post-millennium. Text messages, instant messages, tweeting, g-talk, dating sites, and anonymity have taken the place of meeting a girl or a guy at school, church or even the local pub in “days of late”. Everyone is longing for intimacy but the means of attaining it are anything but intimate.

LuBell’s script is a series of well-staged scenarios between a group of friends and their assorted associates. The minimalist set is similar to Lucid (our review ★★½)also directed by LuBell but it works much better with his own writing. The actors move the simple pieces of furniture about in between scenes like puzzle pieces, and then sit on the sides of the stage as observers in the shadows. This allows the actors to be the focus of attention but calls to mind how love is manipulated and discarded like so much furniture.

Some of the cast members really stood out. Shane Kenyon as Arthur and Sue Redman as Avery represent the most authentic journey of all the relationships. Mr. Kenyon’s comedic timing is perfect and in a second he breaks your heart projecting the frustration of trying to be honest in a world that thrives on game playing. Ms. Redman is the perfect accompaniment as Avery. Her character’s explanation of having to look great to attract the right guy while repelling the wrong guy at the same time was hilarious in its honesty. The performances by Ebony Wimbs and Doug Tyler are interesting in that they are portraying characters that have been emotionally stunted from childhood. Ms. Wimbs plays Nina – a woman who has made her way into the world of high art and her model for love is more like a business plan. She finds Max (Tyler) online, who has just ended a two-year relationship with a man. Max wants to have the American family ideal. ‘Someone to grow old with and have kids’ is on his agenda and he decides that it should be a woman. There is a contrived nature to their relationship, seemingly constructed with directions from advice columns and magazine articles on identity and poly-amory. The performances of Ms. Wimbs and Mr. Tyler have a fine balance in portraying this situation. They are nuanced and open hearted even when it all comes to an unexpected conclusion.

Brian Kavanaugh (as Dale) makes the perfect sinister attorney on the down low who orders anonymous sex online to be delivered to his office. Dale is a jerk to everyone and cannot seem to come to terms with his sexual longings. Arianne Ellison has a funny and poignant turn as Dale’s emotionally abused wife Chrissy. One can not help but flinch as Dale berates her for not appreciating how hard he worked to get them to an upper echelon of society. The New Year’s Eve scene with Chrissy and Avery is beautifully acted and literally shows what happened to the cheerleader who had it all.

DaysOfLate8 DaysOfLate5
DaysOfLate6 DaysOfLate3

Christine Lin, as Miyoko the gallery curator, and Bret Lee as Sascha, the gay starving artist, fill out the cast, do a fine job with roles that feel contrived and stereotypical. Ms. Lin is the Asian woman who rebels against the stereotype of submissiveness by being the polar opposite. She is revolted when she has her first orgasm delivered with great comic and sexy flair by Mr. Kenyon. She is used to rough and anonymous sodomy with Dale the doltish attorney and hates that she loses control. Mr. Lee spends most of the play as the walking wounded. He doesn’t get any of the snappy repartee or double entendre but manages to turn in a fine performance free of snark or self-pity.

The performances in Days of Late owe a lot to a fluid script. Some of the terms that could be a challenge are made clear by the writing and smooth direction. I am glad to be a generation before the one portrayed in this production. The world is an emotional minefield and the roadmap is mostly a mélange of instant gratification. This generation has been raised in an era of permissiveness and experimentation under the guise of personal freedom. Self-control and letting things unfold naturally still turn out to be the winning ticket. Days of Late is a definite winner. It is funny, warm, and potentially shocking in its frankness. Not for kids unless you want to do some hard explaining.

 
Rating: ★★★
 

“Days of Late” runs through May 22nd at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western in Chicago. The times are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 3:00pm. Tickets are available by calling 773-296-6024 or www.viaducttheatre.com. Read more about this talented ensemble at http://www.sinnermanensemble.org.

 days-of-late-postcard

 

Continue reading