Review: Jackie and Me (Chicago Children’s Theatre)

     
     

Jackie Robinson honored with fun and dynamic storytelling

 

  
     

Pictured (far left) Kamal Angelo Bolden as Jackie Robinson, (seated, with baby) Tracey Bonner as Rachel Robinson, and (far right) Tyler Ross as Joey Stoshack. Photo credit:  Michael Brosilow

  
Chicago Children’s Theatre presents
  
Jackie and Me
      
Written by Steven Dietz
Based on book by Dan Gutman
Directed by Derrick Sanders
at  Ruth Page Center for the Arts
1016 N. Dearborn Avenue (map)
through March 27  | 
tickets: $25-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Chicago Children’s Theatre has a triumph on their hands. Their world premiere production of Jackie and Me has nothing less than heart—miles and miles of heart. Based on the children’s book by Dan Gutman, frankness and joyful simplicity dominate Steven Dietz’s script. Derrick Sanders’ fresh and focused direction energizes the story of Jackie Robinson, the black athlete who broke the color barrier in baseball. Jackie and Me doesn’t just relate Robinson’s story accessibly to young Pictured, from left:  Tyler Ross as Joey Stoshack, Kamal Angelo Bolden as Jackie Robinson. Photo credit:  Michael Brosilowaudiences, but also makes it lively, passionate and dynamic. The play teaches young people the degrading and often dangerous racism Robinson had to overcome just to play in the white major leagues. But equally threaded throughout the story is an unquenchable enthusiasm for baseball, its history and power to connect generations.

Young Joey Stoshack (Tyler Ross) has an undying love for baseball. Joey also has a peculiar gift—by simply holding an old baseball card in his hand he can travel back in time to meet the baseball player pictured on the card. When his teacher gives his class the assignment of writing biographical reports of great African Americans, Joey is relieved to learn that Jackie Robinson is on the list. An old friend Flip (Sean Cooper) lends him a Bond Bread card with Jackie Robinson’s picture on it and he travels back to learn history as it happened.

The characters of Jackie and Me are drawn bold and big—and they don’t get much bigger or bolder than Branch Rickey (Charles Stransky) signing Jackie Robinson (Kamal Angelo Bolden) to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Sanders’ direction allows his cast to project their characters with directness and clarity while exuberantly moving the story forward–and the production goes beyond idealizing the larger-than-life characters of Rickey and Robinson, simply and potently enshrined by Stransky and Bolden. Just when one thinks the time travel bit won’t convince, it convinces. Just when one thinks the story’s unabashed optimism might come off too hokey or old-fashioned, it convinces. Sanders and his excellent cast bring across the nobility and hopefulness of Robinson’s achievement with masterful assurance.

     
Pictured (from left)  Kamal Angelo Bolden as Jackie Robinson, Sean Cooper as Jackie’s Dodger teammate Pee Wee Rees, and Patrick De Nicola as Phildelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman. Photo credit:  Michael Brosilow Pictured, from left:  Tyler Ross as Joey Stoshack, Charles Stransky as Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers,  who signed the first African-American to play major league baseball, Jackie Robinson, played by Kamal Angelo Bolden. Photo credit:  Michael Brosilow

Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun. Ross’s open and straightforward emotion allows audiences, both young and old, to connect with Joey’s journey. Patrick de Nicola provides infinite comic relief in a number of other roles in which he plays Joey’s rival. As Joey’s Mom and Dad, Vanessa Greenway and Ron Rains make warm, human and realistic parents. Chicago Children’s Theatre goes to the very heart of storytelling and reveals the diamonds that are there. Jackie and Me has the stuff to uplift and rejuvenate audiences of all ages and remind them of the glory of baseball at the center of the American Dream.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
      
  

Performances of Jackie and Me continue through March 27, 2011 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 North Dearborn. Tickets are $25 for children (ages 17 and under) and $35 for adults, available through CCT’s website, chicagochildrenstheatre.org, or the ticket hotline, (866) 811-4111.

Jackie and Me is recommended for children ages 8 and older as it deals with historical racism in an honest manner.

(from left) Sean Cooper as Flip, owner of the baseball card shop frequented by time traveler Joey Shostack, played by Tyler Ross. Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Pictured, from left:  Tyler Ross as Joey Stoshack, Kamal Angelo Bolden as Jackie Robinson Jackie Robinson - Jackie and Me - Chicago Children's Theatre

Photos by Michael Brosilow 

Artists

Cast: Kamal Angelo Bolden as Jackie Robinson, Tyler Ross as Joey Stoshack, with Tracey N. Bonner (Rachel), Patrick De Nicola (Ant), Ron Rains (Dad), Vanessa Greenway (Mom), Sean Cooper (Flip) and Charles Stransky (Branch Rickey).

Production: Steven Dietz (playwright), Derrick Sanders (director), Ian Zywica (set), Seth Reinick (lights), Christine Pascual (costumes), Michael Griggs (sound) and Kimberly Morris (props), Michael Brosilow (photography).

     
     

Review: Dracula (Idle Muse Theatre)

  
  

“Twilight”, eat your heart out!

  
  

Edward Harch as Dracula and Nathan Thompson as Renfield in a scene from Idle Muse Theatre's 'Dracula'

   
Idle Muse Theatre presents
   
Dracula
   
Adapted by Steven Dietz
Directed by
Lenny Wahlberg
at
side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through March 6  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Review by Paige Listerud

Idle Muse Theatre has captured the quintessential gothic vibe. Their production, Dracula, now at Side Project Theatre under the direction of Lenny Wahlberg, is traditional, to say the least. It slays because it is dutifully faithful to Bram Stoker’s vision and language, resonating with deep Victorian observations on human passion and the human condition. “Great men, like galaxies, end in dust,” quotes the supreme vamp himself, as he plays host to his unsuspecting guest, Jonathan Harker (Chris Waldron). Abraham Van Helsing (Brad Woodard) is the equal to the Count (Edward Karch) in weighty sentiments, especially when he warns John Seward (Brian Bengtson) not to reveal their secrets to “God’s madmen”—that is, just about everybody.

Edward Karch as Dracula in Idle Muse Theatre's production of 'Dracula'Gothic fetish aside, the real joy lies in witnessing Wahlberg’s young cast wield Stoker’s lush, dark language like mature, seasoned pros, adding those necessary flashes of humor at their critical moments. Of course, it helps to have Renfield (Nathan Thompson), the lunatic in Dr. Seward’s asylum, as your guide. Thompson maintains total and fierce control over Renfield’s twists, zipping from raving lunacy to childlike pleas–“May I have a kitten?”—never mind that Renfield, in possession of a kitten, is not an innocent thing.

But Renfield’s master also strikes a silent, controlling and imposing presence. As Dracula, Karch conveys the original deadliness of the vampire of vampires with icy elegance. The Count has aristocratic pedigree and a living recollection of history but he is much closer to Nosferatu in raging animalism. Here is fresh relief from the mooning, insipid vampires of “Twilight” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. The original Dracula makes them all look like pussies. Here is sex as danger, real danger, danger for the both physical body and the immortal soul.

Idle Muse’s production starts off very strong. The sensual and witty Victorian friendship between Mina Murray (Alex Fisher) and Lucy Westenra (Stacey Sublette) is established immediately, along with Mina’s powers as an uncommonly independent woman and Lucy’s driving romantic passions. In fact, it’s rather sad that one of them has to get staked—Fisher and Sublette really make a great team. Meanwhile, Chris Waldron’s portrayal of Jonathan Harker is dead-on as the fresh-faced Englishman who has no clue what awaits him in Transylvania. Bengtson’s Seward may be a little on the stiff side, but in some ways that’s apt for a character that is all ideals and naïve faith in science and rationality. Woodard, for his part, gives us a younger, more vigorous Van Helsing than we’re accustomed to from film—but that too, is a very good thing. With only a little more knowledge of vampire lore on his side, his hunt for Dracula proceeds almost on equal footing with Seward and Harker.

Where the play begins to wobble a bit is in the second act. Fisher is wonderful as the bitten Lucy but getting to the final showdown proves too much for Steven Dietz’s adaptation. Stoker’s novel has Dracula’s demise take place on a racing wagon with Lucy’s three suitors delivering the strategic deathblows. Nothing like that can take place at the Side Project’s storefront space. But the company might want to look into other special effects to stage the death of the Count. Spectacular evil deserves a spectacular end. That is the way we mere mortals honor it.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Nathan Thompson as Renfield in a scene from Idle Muse Theatre's 'Dracula'.

 

Artists

 

Cast

Alex Fisher as Mina Murray
 Chris Waldron as Jonathan Harker
Stacey Sublette as Lucy Westenra
 Brian Bengtson as John Seward
Nathan Thompson as Renfield
Brad Woodard as Van Helsing
Eddy Karch as Dracula

Ensemble: Mara Kovacevic, Liz MacDougald and Matthew Gibson

Creative: Lenny Wahlberg (Director), Evan Jackson (Assistant Director), Greg Poljacik (Fight Choreographer)

 

  
  

REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure

Sherlock Holmes Chicago Idle Muse review

The Game’s Afoot

 

Sherlock Holmes - Idle Muse 1

   
Idle Muse Theatre presents
   
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure
  
By Arthur Conan Doyle and William Guilette
Adapted by
Steven Dietz
Directed by Evan Jackson
at
the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through August 22  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

reviewed by Barry Eitel

Idle Muse Theatre’s production of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure makes it clear that it is different. They do their best to avoid falling back on any typical depictions of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional genius. Don’t expect huge smoking pipes and capes or any neurotic antics a la Robert Downey, Jr. Director Evan Jackson Sherlock Holmes - Idle Muse 2 succeeds in coming up with his own spin on the Victorian-era play by Doyle and actor William Guilette, cleverly adapted by Steven Dietz. Luke Hamilton’s dapper Sherlock injects cocaine (a trait from the novels often overlooked in adaptations) and the space basks in steampunk nostalgia. Jackson and his team make bold choices, of which a fair amount fail, but they are able to keep the storm of suspense gathering on the tiny side project stage.

The ambitious play dramatizes Holmes’ last adventure, one where he faces his mortality at every twist and turn. It starts with Dr. Watson (Nathan Pease) eulogizing about his comrade. Then we’re thrown into the thick of the final case. The King of Bohemia (Brian Bengston) wants the duo to retrieve a salacious photo of him and Irene Adler (Elizabeth MacDonald). This seemingly inane investigation heats up when another long-time Doyle character, Professor Moriarty (Nathan Thompson), is linked to the caper. By then, as the saying goes, the game is afoot.

Dietz’s adaptation captures Doyle’s snappy sense of wit and intelligence. Holmes and Watson wax philosophical and, occasionally, poetical. There’s an authenticity that runs through the piece; it’s neither over-contemporized nor over-researched. The major flaw with the play is that it’s too neat. Dietz takes a Hollywood approach to the plot, bringing together all the major players of the series for one last hoorah. Moriarty and Holmes are simply painted as the villain and hero of this story, a stale aspect of this otherwise deftly-written show.

Sherlock Holmes - Idle Muse 5 Sherlock Holmes - Idle Muse 4

Sans goofy hat, Hamilton is remarkably charming as Holmes. With a script that meditates on death as much as this one, you need an actor who can humanize a character like Holmes. Hamilton finds all of it, layering on anxiety, love, and fear into Sherlock’s calculating psyche. He and Pease have fine chemistry, brotherly yet sometimes catty. The mousy Pease takes awhile to warm up to his long addresses to the audience, but he grabs control by the second act. MacDonald plays well against the two men. Her Irene Adler can be as cold as Holmes, a great choice for the character. The weak spot of the cast is Thompson, who ruins the quick pace with his pause-prone take on Moriarty. With such an atypical take on Sherlock, it’s a shame Moriarty is portrayed so two-dimensional. Thompson comes off as stock “slimy evil genius,” a choice that gets boring pretty quickly.

Moriarty’s reptilian essence is one of several missteps Jackson makes. For example, the supporting cast lacks the clarity of Hamilton and Pease. And the ending is marred by a deflating bout of stage combat, one that would have been better left to the imagination than illustrated.

Idle Muse definitely wins some, too. Dennis Mae’s set, which includes a maze of copper piping, is wonderful and flexible to all sorts of environments. Place is noted by beautiful etchings hung from the grid. And the production sits firmly with Idle Muse’s ‘poor theatre’ mission statement. The industrial world presented here feels both modern and old, a statement that could describe most of the production. However, it’s the commitment to honesty that really drives this show forward. While the mystery is kind of easy, we still want to follow Holmes along. Like Doyle’s books, it’s not really about the case, but the detective.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
    
   

Sherlock Holmes - Idle Muse 3

       
       

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