Review: Roadkill Confidential (Dog and Pony Theatre)

  
  

Video work adds little to self-indulgent, tedious concoction

  
  

L to R: Melanie (Heather Townsend) stumbles into Trevor's (Lucy Carapetyan) studio in the woods in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere production of Roadkill Confidential May 4-June 4 at The Building Stage. Photo by Timmy Samuel.

   
Dog and Pony Theatre Company presents
   
Roadkill Confidential
   
Written by Sheila Callaghan
Directed by Devon DeMayo
at The Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter (map)
through June 4  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

Dog and Pony’s Roadkill Confidential just might be the weirdest amalgamation of pretentious meaninglessness we’ve encountered on a stage. Ever. Despite what the various program notes would have you believe, playwright Sheila Callaghan’s work is neither bold nor invigorating. It is simply a tedious barrage of grainy, often visually indecipherable video footage looming over a messy and ultimately pointless pastiche of verbal non-sequiturs and bizarre, modern dance-like interludes that seem to have no connection with the rest of the production.

FBI Man (Sorin Brouwers) and Trevor (Lucy Carapetyan) perform the "We Sense Each Other Dance" in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere production of Roadkill Confidential by Sheila Callaghan. Photo Timmy Samuel In its sporadic moments of quasi-lucidity, Roadkill Confidential seems to be attempting some sort of satircal commentary on the everyday violence that consumes the world at large and/or humankind’s increasingly numb reaction to said violence. But the production comes across more confused than satirical. The video footage isn’t the only element of the production that’s mostly unintelligible. Roadkill Confidential also lacks a coherent narrative. Finally, director Devon De Mayo seems unconcerned with connecting the audience on any level whatsoever. The drama lurches along from one outlandish scene to the next without offering a single moment of emotional truth for the audience to latch on to.

Obviously, a traditional narrative and conventionally empathetic characters aren’t necessary for a play to work. From Ionesco to Beckett to Brecht and beyond, theater of the absurd and alienation can resonate with formidable power. But Callaghan’s absurdity seems to stand for nothing beyond its own self-indulgence.

The story, such as it is, centers on Trevor (Lucy Carapetyan), a churlish artist who specializes in creating sculptures made from roadkill. As charactere go, Trevor is two-dimensional, running the emotional gamut from A to B, or rather, from bitchy to bitchier. She is prone, as are the others on stage, to sudden outbreaks of stylized movement – rhythmic gyrations portrayed with an angst-ridden, dead seriousness but that read more like a parody of modern dance.

Trevor is being tracked by a one-eyed fellow known only as FBI Man (Sorin Brouwers), who believes the artist may be using her sculptures as weapons of germ-warfare. In between FBI Man’s rambling ruminations on high-tech surveillance gadgets and his own unflagging patriotism, Callaghan introduces Trevor’s tweedy partner William (Dan Smith), her seemingly brain-damaged stepson Randy (Andrew Goetten), and the fractured family’s uber-perky, socially clueless neighbor Melanie (Heather Townsend).

     
FBI Man (Sorin Brouwers) pauses dinner between Randy (Andrew Goetten), Melanie (Heather Townsend), and Trevor (Lucy Carapetyan) to share surveillance equipment in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere production of "Roadkill Confidential" by Sheila Callaghan. Photo Timmy Samuel Trevor (Lucy Carapetyan on screen) interrupts FBI Man's (Sorin Brouwers) surveillance in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere production of "Roadkill Confidential" by Sheila Callaghan. Photo Timmy Samuel

Among the five of them, there’s not a note of authenticity or a single moment that generates anything akin to empathy. What drives Trevor’s surly fascination with dead animals is anybody’s guess. As is the genesis of Randy’s bizarre obsession with cutlery. Combine the disconnected interludes of surreal, Isadora Duncan-on-absinthe undulations with the dearth of relatable humanity with video footage so muddy it looks like abstract art and you’ve got a show offers audiences very little incentive to stay interested.

Although to be sure, there is one video segment that clearly captures something recognizable, and recognizably part of the story: It is footage of a dog chained to a wall and left to starve as part of a gallery exhibit. It’s safe to assume no animals were actually harmed in the creation of Roadkill Confidential. Even so, the images of the purportedly starving mutt seem utterly gratuitous in their cruelty, an ugly, manipulative attempt by the playwright to be shocking. Equally ugly: A scene wherein Trevor, hands dripping with blood, wields a knife over a squirming, barely living squirrel (or something) and tells the struggling creature that she’s about to inflict pain that’ll hurt plike a “motherfucker.” Call me overly sensitive, but I see nothing worthwhile about watching small animals tortured to death, even when it’s only pretend.

As for Trevor’s final art project, it’s so beyond the pale as to beggar description. But just when you think Roadkill Confidential couldn’t get anymore pointlessly strange or manipulative in its attempts to be edgy and innovative, Callaghan introduces a musical number involving another dying creature Trevor has drafted into her artwork.

Successful plays don’t need likeable characters or traditional plots. It is quite possible to fuse traditional dramatic action with dance and video and come up with a compelling multi-disciplinary artistic hybrid. But Roadkill Confidential, in its strenuous attempts to be push the envelope of edginess and provocation, only succeeds in being tedious. It’s not innovative so much as it is inane. And in the end, uninteresting.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

L to R: Randy (Andrew Goetten), Trevor (Lucy Carapetyan on table) and William (Dan Smith) flashback to fame time in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere production of "Roadkill Confidential" by Sheila Callaghan. Photo: Timmy Samuel

Roadkill Confidential continues through June 4, with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for students and seniors. All previews plus Thursday and Sunday performances are pay-what-you-can. For tickets, call The Building Stage box office at 312-491-1369 or visit www.dogandponychicago.org.     (All photos by Timmy Samuel)

     

     
     

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REVIEW: Auctioning the Ainsleys (Dog & Pony Theatre)

     
     

‘Auctioning’ is a hard sell

     
      

Matthew Sherbach and Faith Noelle Hurley (standing) and Kate Kisner (seated) and Teeny Lamothe in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere of Auctioning the Ainsleys Nov. 12-Dec. 18 at The Building Stage

   
Dog & Pony Theatre Company presents
   
Auctioning the Ainsleys
   
Written by Laura Schellhardt
Directed by
Dan Stermer
at
The Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter (map)
through Dec 18  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Laura Schellhardt’s Auctioning the Ainsleys is painfully, blatantly, and delightfully quirky. Dog & Pony Theatre Company’s treatment of the play feels like it was lifted from the mind of Wes Anderson or Diablo Cody. There’re plenty of sweaters, vintage silverware, and arrested development, and the show – directed by Dan Stermer – is undeniably fun. Unfortunately, the only thing it’s really missing is dramatic heft.

Austin Talley and Kate Kisner in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere of Auctioning the Ainsleys Nov. 12-Dec. 18 at The Building StageThe titular Ainsleys are a gaggle of childish adult siblings who live with their reclusive mother in a massive auction house. Each has some neurosis that makes them perfect for the estate-sales business the family runs. Annalee (Faith Noelle Hurley) is more than a tad OCD; therefore, she oversees accounting. Amelia (Teeny Lamothe) obsesses over matching—both objects and people—which makes her perfect for setting up the auction lots. Aiden (Matthew Sherbach) eschews all material things, so he takes care of all the polishing, cleaning, and refurbishing (or distressing if that’s what people are buying). Their world is turned upside down when their aging mother, Alice (Kate Kisner), decides to auction off the house and everything in it. The enormous sale recalls wayward daughter Avery (Rebekah Ward-Hays), whose caustic domineering ways upset the Ainsleys’ balance even more.

Schelhardt’s play is about people, but it is also very much about things. It riffs on what our objects say about us in a myriad of intriguing, charming ways. According to Avery, a smart auctioneer is not selling tangible items, but the stories behind those things. Alice has a trinket she uses to symbolize each one of her children (a teapot, a stapler, etc.). Her deceased slave-driver of a husband, a character never seen but who drives much of the action nevertheless, represented each one of his brood with a price tag.

Stermer’s production is beautifully designed. Every design aspect clicks wonderfully with every other. Tracy Otwell’s and Annalee Johnson’s playful envisioning of the Ainsley homestead stuffs the vast Building Stage space. Stermer uses it very well, carving out scenes on the various levels. Kevin O’Donnell’s amusing, jazz-inspired soundtrack is also of note, slathering on the vibraphone and woodwinds.

Schelhardt falls prey to a flaw that plagues many young writers and theatre companies in our age of indie films. The play flits along for the first act, introducing the wacky characters and their defining eccentricities. As the Ainsleys’ auctioning continues, though, there is a jarring push to explore dark family secrets (abuse, prejudice, long-lingering hatred). This is done to manufacture some stakes, but the heavy issues feel very artificial considering the first half of the play. Many of the revelations uncovered in the latter half come off as either unbelievable, a bit dumb, or insignificant. Avery harbors a deep-seated hatred for her tyrannical dad, but her reasoning seems tangled.

 

Austin Talley and Faith Noelle Hurley in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere of Auctioning the Ainsleys Nov. 12-Dec. 18 at The Building Stage (Left to right) Rebekah Ward-Hays, Austin Talley, Kate Kisner (seated), Teeny Lamothe and (standing, back row) Matthew Sherbach and Faith Noelle Hurley in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere of Auctioning the Ainsleys Nov. 12-Dec. 18 at The Building Stage
Faith Noelle Hurley in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere of Auctioning the Ainsleys Nov. 12-Dec. 18 at The Building Stage Austin Talley and Matthew Sherbach in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere of Auctioning the Ainsleys Nov. 12-Dec. 18 at The Building Stage

Stermer collected a talented cast that breathes life into Schelhardt’s whimsical world. Lamothe is mousy and hilarious. Sherbach is another standout, often responding with ridiculous physical responses when Aiden cannot come up with words. Both the script and the cast occasionally fall back on unmotivated character idiosyncrasies. This includes Hurley’s cartoony hand gestures or, once he finds out Alice’s auditor (Austin Talley) is a collector, Aiden’s annoying habit of calling him a synonym of “souvenir” (knickknack, brickenbrak, curio—something that would be funny if done, like, only five times instead of five times every conversation). The best scenes, both in terms of writing and acting, are the ones between Talley and Kisner. They are sweet but weighty, peculiar but relatable, and the most dramatically interesting sections of the production. These few scenes are what the rest of the play wants to be.

Through Auctioning the Ainsleys, Dog & Pony exudes plenty of charming hipster quirk that is certifiably enjoyable. However, Schelhardt obviously wants to make some sincere comment on the cult of materialism. The message is lost in the clutter.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

Rebekah Ward-Hays (right, front) and cast in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere of Auctioning the Ainsleys

TICKET DEAL: Pay What You Can is available at the door every Thursday and Sunday provided the show is not sold out.

     
     

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REVIEW: The Franklin Expedition (The Building Stage)

Franklin ends up lost once again

 

 Franklin Expedition cast - The Building Stage Chicago

   
The Building Stage presents
   
The Franklin Expedition
   
Conceived and Directed by Blake Montgomery
at
The Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter (map)
Through October 30  |  tickets: $20-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Billed as "A slightly delusional, historically inaccurate, fragmented portrait of a lost explorer," The Building Stage’s world premiere The Franklin Expedition centers on Sir John Franklin, a British naval officer and Arctic explorer who mapped much of the northern coastline of North America. In 1845, he set out with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, to traverse the last uncharted section of the Northwest Passage, but never returned. Numerous search and rescue missions were sent, but Franklin and his 128 men were lost. An 1854 expedition interviewed Inuits and learned that the ships had become icebound. The crews had tried to reach safety on foot, resorting to cannibalism in their efforts to survive, but all succumbed to the bitter conditions. A horrified Victorian public refused to believe this account of their heroic explorers, but recent discoveries seem to bear it out. The mystery of what happened to Franklin’s expedition inspired the ballad "Lord Franklin, “Wilkie Collins,” 1856 play The Frozen Deep and a variety of other artistic works.

Franklin Expedition cast - The Building Stage Chicago 3 You won’t find any of this out by watching The Franklin Expedition. Conceived and directed by Blake Montgomery, and developed and performed by David Amaral, Pamela Maurer, Chris Pomeroy, Jon Stutzman and Leah Urzendowski, the play takes a highly stylized and very self-referential view of Franklin.

"I don’t recognize myself," the character says at one point. As well he might.

All five of the performers play Franklin at different times, often several at once — sometimes in chorus — as well as his wife, his crew, Queen Victoria and a few other characters; then they step back to examine how well their differing portraits of the man worked out. At times, it seems more like a method-acting workshop than a play.

The timeline isn’t remotely chronological, slipping from Franklin on his frozen ship to his preparations for the voyage to his imaginings of his triumphant return to his funeral and around, through and back again. Stretches range from tense to solemn to humorous to outright zany.

Some parts work well: A scene in which the very expressive Stutzman, as Franklin, valiantly tries to rally his disheartened crew; a funny and highly anachronistic session in the snow; and a post-expedition meeting between the tall and hugely comic Pomoroy as Queen Victoria and the diminutive blonde Urzendowski as Franklin. Others, such as the back-patting acting critiques and an overlong scene in which Urzendowski, as the Queen, criticizes the British restraint of Amaral, as Lord Barrow, in eulogizing the lost Franklin, are less successful.

Musical interludes by the sweetly voiced Maurer, sometimes accompanied by other cast members, include some very nice folk songs, including a lovely rendition of "Lord Franklin." The multi-talented performers accompany on fiddle, guitar, keyboards, ukulele and washboard.

It’s definitely interesting, the performances are very well done and the concept of the ever-changing Franklin quite cleverly executed. Yet, overall, the play — 90 minutes without intermission — never quite seems to come together. It seems a collection of disjointed scenes. I’d really have liked to see more history and action and less theatrical navel gazing.  

In the end, despite all these players, Franklin himself is lost.

    
   
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Franklin Expedition cast - The Building Stage Chicago 2

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Review: Shakespeare’s King Phycus (Strangetree Group)

A hilarious romp through Shakespeare’s tragedies

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The Strange Tree Group presents
  
Shakespeare’s King Phycus
  
Written by Tom Willmorth
Directed by
Ira Amyx
at
The Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter (map)
Through July 31  | 
tickets: $25-$45  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Written in 1988, Shakespeare’s tale of King Phycus and his children Juliet and Hamlet is the bard’s first tragedy, a clunky amalgamation of characters and situations that could best be described as a rough draft of the legendary Tragedies that followed. Thought lost for centuries, the play reappeared in the 19th century, but phycus-plotting productions were halted for their connections to the Astor Place Riot and the assassination of President Lincoln.

Yes, the history of Tom Willmorth’s Shakespeare’s King Phycus is completely fictional, but it is the sort of detail that shows Strange Tree’s commitment to their concept. This isn’t a Monty Python-esque farce (it totally is) – this is Shakespeare’s lost tragedy, and the actors perform it with all the grandeur and importance a forgotten Elizabethan masterpiece deserves. In contrast with the ridiculous content of the play, the actors’ stern execution of their craft enhances the comedy of the piece, whether it is the street battle waged with weaponized fruit or the Nurse’s stream of dead baby retorts.

Shakespeare’s King Phycus is at its best when the humor comes from exaggerating the absurdities of Shakespeare’s plots and language. The language of the play, like any rough draft, needs a lot of work. The alliteration is overly aggressive, the rhymes are awkward and many times nonsensical, and wordplay is used so frequently that oftentimes characters lose track of what they’re even talking about. But that’s the point, especially when it comes to the heaps of classic lines that Willmorth butchers with his horrendous poetry, e.g., “By the picking of my nose, something wicked this way goes.” Yuck.

phycus-stareoutWithout the work of the talented ensemble, the script would collapse under its own weight, but the actors’ handle on Shakespeare’s language adds integrity to the play. An Elizabethan rendition of “Who’s on first?” is funnier because the actors are on point with the rapid fire banter of broken up iambic pentameter. Conversely, Friar Don’s (Scott Cupper) final monologue is completely unintelligible, showing that this cast doesn’t need consonants and vowels to be funny.

With each actor playing multiple roles, Shakespeare’s King Phycus is a demanding show performed admirably as the versatile ensemble transitions between roles  seamlessly. Michael T. Downey is noteworthy in the title role, particularly post-eye-gouging, playing the fantastic physical gag so well that the joke never gets old. phycus-chorus-pointingBob Kruse’s wonderfully creepy necrophile Gloucester and Carolyn Klein’s vulgar Nurse are also standouts, with both actors taking the exaggerations of the language and matching it with appropriately outrageous physicalizations.

As funny as Shakespeare’s King Phycus is, when Willmorth relies too heavily on pop culture references (“Isn’t it Ionic, don’t you think?) and unnecessary fan service (Friar Don is a ninja!), the results are groan-worthy and take away from the timelessness of the concept. Some of the jokes go on a little too long, like a dance sequence between Brutus, Romeo, and Sardonicus that could use a good minute of cutting, but the production still stands up well despite these flaws. Like the play’s fictional history, the little details are what make Shakespeare’s King Phycus great, the chamber arrangement of “La Cucaracha” playing in the background of the ball, the improv warm-ups of Hamlet’s friends Goldenberg and Rosenstein. For anyone that loves Shakespeare and wants to see some of his best plays reconstructed then put together in the most haphazardly hilarious way possible, Strangetree’s productions will not disappoint.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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Adventure Stage Chicago forms new artistic ensemble

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Adventure Stage Chicago announces new Artistic Ensemble

As Adventure Stage Chicago (ASC) prepares to end their sixth season with the Midwest premiere of the pirate musical The Ghosts of Treasure Island, ASC announces the formation of a new artistic ensemble.

The eleven-member ensemble is comprised of actors, designers, directors, stage managers, teaching artists and writers committed to achieving artistic excellence through long-term collaboration and the creation of original work. The ensemble will be directly involved in the proposal of new projects, script development, season selection and the production process. A number of ensemble members also work in classrooms as teaching artists, implementing the company’s Neighborhood Bridges program in Chicago Public Schools. Additionally, ensemble members will serve as ambassadors for the company within the community, playing their part during outreach events at libraries, park districts, neighborhood street festivals and celebrations.

The creation of the ensemble re-focuses the development of new and original work to come from within the company, creating dynamic and transformative theatre experiences by Chicagoans for youth and families of Chicago.

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ASC Ensemble Members:

 

Tom Arvetis
  Tom Arvetis is the founding Producing Artistic Director of Adventure Stage Chicago, where he has directed world premieres of Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back by Jason Tremblay, The Blue House by Jose Cruz Gonzalez, and I Dream in Blues, which he co-wrote with Chicago blues singer Katharine Davis. Additionally, he recently helmed a workshop reading of Dragon/Sky by Elizabeth Wong (Silk Road Theatre Project). Tom is an Emeritus Company Member with Barrel of Monkeys, has acted in award-winning productions with the Neo-Futurists, Bailiwick Repertory Company (now Bailiwick Chicago) and Pyewacket Theatre, among others, and is a veteran sound designer. He is a graduate of Northwestern University.

 

Brian Bell
  Brian Bell recently directed Gossamer for ASC (where he also serves as a teaching artist) and will appear in their upcoming production The Ghosts of Treasure Island. Previously he completed a directing internship with the Carrousel Theater an der Parkaue in Germany and went on to direct The Retreating World by Naomi Wallace at Berlin’s Acud Theater. Brian graduated with a B.A. in Theatre Performance from the University of North Texas, where he directed and adapted Woyzeck by Georg Buechner as a final thesis. Brian is the artistic director of Chicago’s Cabaret Vagabond and has worked with Lincoln Square Theatre, Darknight Productions, Piccolo Theatre, Apple Tree Theatre and Collaboraction. He is an alumnus of the Chicago Directors Lab.

 

Brandon Campbell
  Brandon Campbell has worked for Adventure Stage Chicago as a teaching artist, stage manager and production manager since moving to Chicago in 2001. He is also an Associate of Collaboraction, serving as production manager for Sketchbook 5, 6, 7, 8 and Carnaval. Other production credits include the world premiere of Jose Rivera‘s Massacre at Goodman Theatre (with Teatro Vista), Chicago Sketchfest and several shows with the Neo-Futurists. In his creative time he has worked as a writer/performer (Dark Eyed Strangers), a puppeteer and designer (Laika’s Coffin, The Cay, Joe’s Garage, Beowulf Vs. Grendel), and a sax player (Seeking Wonderland, 2nd Story, Jenn Rhoads Project).

 

Sarah Rose Graber
  Sarah Rose Graber graduated from Northwestern University’s theatre program and received her Acting Certificate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. She was the Circumnavigator Foundation’s Travel Around the World Study Grant Scholar, which enabled her to travel the globe while researching the way theatre is used as a tool for communication and education to encourage social change. She chronicled her journey in a play called Time For Take-Off! She adapted The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe into a bilingual play for English and Spanish viewers and Edmund Spenser‘s epic poem “The Faerie Queene” into a mask play she directed called IMAGO, for which she received the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts Grant (CIRA) and the Program in the Study of the Imagination Grant (PSI). Chicago credits include Northlight Theatre, Metropolis Performing Arts Center, Strawdog Theatre, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy, Village Players Theatre, and Factory Theatre, where she is also a company member.  As a teaching artist, Sarah has taught and directed for Northlight Theatre, Arts Berwyn, Chicago Children’s Humanities Festival, the National High School Institute at Northwestern, Neighborhood Bridges, and many residencies at Chicago area schools.

 

Laura Kollar
  Laura Kollar attended Loyola University Chicago, where she earned degrees in Theater and Psychology. Costume design credits at Adventure Stage Chicago include Gossamer, Holes, The Blue House, The Cay and Shakespeare Stealer. She co-designed Still Life With Iris with fellow ASC ensemble member Jessica Kuehnau and helped create costumes for Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back and I Dream in Blues.  Laura’s work has also been seen with Actor’s Theatre Company, Theatre Mir, Lookingglass Theatre, Collaboraction, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Serendipity Theatre, North Park University and Pegasus Players, among others.

 

Jessica Kuehnau
  Jessica Kuehnau‘s previous designs for ASC have included sets for Eye of the Storm, The Shakespeare Stealer, and The Blue House, and costumes for Still Life with Iris, Search for Odysseus and Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back. Since completing her MFA in Scenic and Costume Design at Northwestern University, Chicago design credits include Rivendell Theatre, Pegasus Players, Lifeline Theatre, Griffin Theatre, Backstage Theatre Company, MPAACT, The Building Stage, Metropolis Performing Arts Center, and Light Opera Works. She is also full time faculty and resident scenic designer at Northeastern Illinois University, as well as the resident set designer and design professor at North Park University.

 

Allison Latta
  Allison Latta is a graduate of the theatre program at Virginia Tech. She has also studied Commedia dell ‘Arte with Anotonio Fava in Reggio Emelia, Italy. Chicago performance credits include Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, Strawdog Theatre and Redmoon Theatre. She was a founding member of TriArts, Inc. and created four original Commedia shows with that company, including Hfob-N-Ffos, which was named a Best of Fringe show at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. She has appeared in ASC’s productions of Sideways Stories from the Wayside School, And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank, Still Life With Iris, The Ash Girl, Holes and Gossamer. She can also be seen in a number of national commercials and independent films. She has worked as a teaching artist with ASC, Gallery 37 and Metropolis Performing Arts Center

 

Scott Letscher
  Scott Letscher is currently the Managing Director of Adventure Stage Chicago. He was a company member of the late, lamented Terrapin Theatre for over ten years, where he served for two years as their Artistic Director. At Terrapin, he directed the After Dark Award-winning production of Aunt Dan and Lemon, the world premiere of Requiem in a Light Aqua Room by Sean Graney, The Rimers of Eldritch, The Sneeze and Public/Privacy. He appeared in the Terrapin productions Nina Variations, Blue Remembered Hills, The Pooka and Daniel O’Rourke, The Kramer and Laurel and Hardy Sleep Together. He also spent four years with the Children’s Theatre Fantasy Orchard as an actor and adaptor. He received a Theatre Arts degree from Marquette University.

 

Jana Liles
  Jana Liles came to Chicago after receiving her B.F.A. in Theatre from Emporia State University in her home state of Kansas. She completed her M.F.A. in Theatre from The Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. She has performed with such theatre companies as Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Light Opera Works, Quest Theatre Ensemble, The GreyZelda Theatre Group, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy and Adventure Stage Chicago, while also appearing in numerous films, local television programs and commercials. An accomplished singer and dancer, she has also been fortunate enough to perform in front of thousands of people at the Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park. In addition to serving as ASC’s Marketing Coordinator, she is the Casting Director at BackStage Theatre Company.

 

Merissa Shunk
  Merissa Shunk has been with Adventure Stage Chicago since 2007 as the Director of Education. Before moving to Chicago she lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She is originally from sunny California where she studied theatre, taught theatre, and studied how to teach theatre at UCLA and Santa Clara University. She has freelanced as a curriculum writer and teaching artist for the Silk Road Theater Project, is the Fine Arts Curriculum Advisor at Rowe Elementary School, and has been a mentor (Drama Mama) in Redmoon Theater‘s Mentoring program, Drama Girls.  In fall of 2008 she co-founded the Chicago Arts Educator Forum and also serves on the board of the Illinois Theatre Association.

 

Brandon Wardell
  Brandon Wardell is a freelance Lighting and Scenic Designer in Chicago. He holds an MFA from Northwestern University and teaches at several universities, including Northwestern University, Columbia College Chicago, The University of Chicago, and Illinois Wesleyan. Recent lighting credits include The Hollow Lands (Steep Theatre), On An Average Day (Backstage Theatre Company), The Arab-Israeli Cookbook (Theatre Mir), John & Jen (Apple Tree Theatre), The Robber Bridegroom (Griffin Theatre) and The Blue House (ASC).  Scenic Designs include Maria’s Field (TUTA), In Arabia We’d All Be Kings (Steep Theatre), Holes (ASC), Dracula (The Building Stage) and Be More Chill (Griffin Theatre). 

Show closings – last chance to see them!

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Show Closings

“Master Harold”…and the Boys TimeLine Theatre

The Fantasticks Promethean Theatre

Jerry and Tom Idle Muse Theatre

The Legend of Ginger Bred Gorilla Tango Theatre

Monks in Trouble Apollo Theatre (Studio space)

Off the Paddy Wagon Cornservatory

Policeman’s Log Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Ring Cycle The Building Stage

Tim Miller’s Lay of the Land Victory Gardens Biograph Theater

 

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special ticket offers

Sunday is "Pay-What-You-Can" Night at Bailiwick Chicago’s Show Us Your Love! Doors open at 7:00 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Come on up to Mary’s Attic and donate what you can to see the show. Stay after with the cast/production staff for a drink and karaoke! Playing at Mary’s Attic (above Hamburger Mary’s), 5400 N. Clark St (Andersonville), Chicago. Visit www.bailiwickchicago.com

$1-2 off tickets to LiveWire Chicago Theatre’s world premiere Lower Debt by Joshua Aaron Weinstein at the Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western Ave. Join LiveWire and the Greater Chicago Food Depository in the fight against hunger by helping us collect nutritious non-perishable food items during the run of Debt (through April 4, Thu-Sat at 7:30 p.m. and Sun at 3:00 p.m.). Bring in one can and receive $1 off your ticket price; bring two or more cans and receive $2 off your ticket price. Cans collected at the door. Call the box office at 773.296.6024 to make your reservation. More at www.livewirechicago.com/lowerdebt.

       

REVIEW: The Ring Cycle (The Building Stage)

‘The Ring Cycle’ Is a Family Affair

 WotanValkyries

The Building Stage presents:

The Ring Cycle

 

based on Richard Wagner “Der Ring des Nibelungen”
directed by Blake Montgomery and Joanie Schultz
adapted by
The Building Stage
through March 14th (more info)

Review by Paige Listerud

The Building Stage has obviously made no small plans. Since their own press admits an aversion to playing it safe, even in the midst of economic crisis, one might easily presume that they’d proceed with greater flare, more flash, or more complicated effects in the execution of their latest production, The Ring Cycle. Instead, Artistic Director Blake Montgomery and Associate Artistic Director Joanie Schultz have given us an adaptation of Richard Wagner’s classic Der Ring des Nibelungen that seems almost puritanical in its lean storytelling. If anything, this monumental production adheres to strict interpretation of Montgomery’s vision for a physical theater—relying full force on the use of mask, clown, movement and mime. Whatever effects exist, they are only the most elemental kind. It’s a theater that celebrates the actor and the actor’s body. In this case, that celebration pushes the endurance of The Ring Cycle’s cast and crew to their limits with a six-hour long marathon of a show.

Building Stage_The Ring Cycle Set designers Meghan Raham and Lee Keenan are almost unforgiving in the productions spare, industrial structure. Only a few gracefully draped aerial silks relieve its exacting right angles and hard surfaces of brick, aluminum, and steel. Spare, elegant lighting (Justin Wardell) and a good, old, effectively timed fog machine suggest otherworldliness. Truly, the world of The Ring Cycle is not a kind or gentle one: its characters prefer warrior strength to anything that smacks of softness. Much here reminds us why Wagner was a Nazi favorite. Against this backdrop, the unabashed femininity of the Rhinemaidens (Sarah Scanlon, Lindsey Dorcus, and Lucy Carapetyan) provides much needed respite.

For all the promotion of The Ring Cycle as “a play that rocks,” the band is surprisingly unobtrusive. Composer and Music Director Kevin O’Donnell only underscores the action on stage; he never overwhelms it. His arrangements, quoting many of Wagner’s leitmotifs, are respectful and modest. The band itself remains semi-hidden in its own pit toward the back of the stage’s first level, reinforcing the theatricality of the overall production and the subterranean presence of the music. It’s a discreet, vital pulse–for a rock band.

In fact, it’s this lack of rock opera flash and pretentiousness that most marks The Building Stage’s production. Scene after scene is simply good, solid storytelling—the kind that takes place around campfires. Even the mid-show dinner break, when cast and audience dine, picnic-style, onstage together, produces a kind of family feeling. Given its rudimentary storytelling and the clowning that exhibits vaudevillian showmanship, one could almost recommend this as entertainment for the whole family. Then again, those passionate, unapologetic incest scenes just might carry that family feeling a little too far. I’ve use the word “puritanical” – but fear not. That’s only in reference to style. All the rampant, Oedipal mania of Wagner’s original has been preserved.

Rhinegold

There are some critics who think of Wagner’s Ring Cycle as Alberich’s tragedy. If so, it’s a tragedy born of frustrated attempts at getting nookie. The Rhine maidens, costumed in coy, sexy homage to Esther Williams, take a moment away from guarding their magical gold to taunt the ugly, hapless dwarf. Forswearing love, but not pleasure, Alberich (William Bullion) steals their gold and fashions a ring of power with which he plans to enslave all–starting with his brother Mime (Bill O’Connor) and the rest of the Nibelung. Here, the set design is its most effective, evoking a nightmare vision of an oppressive industrial underworld. Alberich enslaves his workforce not only with the Ring, but also a magical helmet fashioned by Mime that allows him to take any form—even invisibility–by which he can surveil and terrorize his overworked slaves.

Montgomery and Schultz can thank whatever gods they worship for Bullion and O’Connor’s agile and superbly timed clowning. Whether playing dwarves or giants, not only do they provide much needed levity, they make the darker moments more monstrous. In these two talents, The Building Stage has truly struck gold.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing among the beautiful people. Once again, costuming (Meghan Raham and Marianna Csaszar) lodges tongue firmly in cheek by dressing the gods as 1970s jet setters. An excellent impulse—if only they had the budget to bring on the vintage Halston and Versace. In any case, Wotan (Chris Pomeroy) has enough on his hands just trying to pay–or not pay–the Giants who have built his legendary fortress. Using his wife Fricka’s (Mandy Walsh) sister, the goddess Freia (Daiva Bhandari), as barter is bound to win him an eternity in the doghouse—especially since Freia grows the golden apples that keep the gods forever young.

Loge, the demigod of fire (Darci Nalepa), arrives just in time to throw both Ring and Rhinegold into the mix. Wotan depends on Loge’s wit to get him out of this jam, but Nalepa slays most when Loge’s wit turns on the gods in sly, scathing commentary.

The Earth goddess, Erda (Scanlon, Dorcus, and Carapetyan), emerges from her chthonic lair long enough to warn about the Ring’s dreadful power—a striking bit of puppetry, but still not enough to make everyone heed her advice. As Wotan surrenders the Ring, magic helmet, and gold he has stolen from Alberich, the Giants turn against each other in deadly combat, fulfilling the Ring’s curse. Accompanied by the mournful song of the Rhinemaidens, made more eerie by their blue-lighted presence contained downstage, the gods’ crossing of the rainbow bridge to Valhalla seems more like a retreat from the devastation they’ve colluded in, rather than a triumphal procession.

erda

Valkyrie

Time has passed. Wotan has stuck his dick into just about everything—including Erda, by whom he’s sired the Valkyries, and a mortal woman by whom he’s fathered the twins Siegmund (Nick Vidal) and Sieglinde (Bhandari). The twins have been separated at birth only to unwittingly meet again, when Sieglinde is trapped in a loveless marriage and Siegmund is on the run from a tribal quarrel over–guess what?–a girl about to be trapped in a loveless marriage.

It must be said that, while the entire cast grounds the heightened language of the original libretto with flesh and blood vitality, Vidal’s execution of it is especially strong. Particularly since professing fiery love as Siegmund in the second act, and Siegfried in the third, can get a little, well, repetitive. But Vidal never allows a moment’s loss of interest. In fact, it’s a real sensual pleasure to hear spoken words of love take on operatic power, whether between Siegmund and Sieglinde or Siegfried and Brunhilde (Nalepa). As for “incest is best,” no artist defends that ardent, narcissistic bond like Wagner. It also helps to have a patriarchal asshole of a husband, like Hunding, for a foil–played with relish by Pat King.

Leave it to the nagging wife to spoil everyone’s fun. Playing Fricka, goddess of marriage, may be a thankless job, but at least Walsh’s cramped harridan throws the estrangement between her and Wotan into high relief, bringing greater psychological veracity to Wotan’s quiet moment of confidence in his Valkyrie daughter, Brunhilde. This is, in fact, Pomeroy’s finest moment. In earlier scenes, his aloof style can make his king of the gods come across like a glorified spear-carrier. But in the course of revealing his secret scheme to use Siegmund and Sieglinde to retrieve the Ring, Pomeroy effectively captures Wotan’s vulnerability and anxiety over losing those he longs to protect by fulfilling his role as upholder of the law.

Pomeroy and Nalepa so thoroughly cement the bond between father and daughter that Brunhilde’s choice to disobey Wotan’s orders manifests the very definition of tragedy. He tells her to let Hunding kill Siegmund, according to Fricka’s wishes, but she disobeys, knowing her father’s true feelings and witnessing the love Siegmund has for Sieglinde. Things get a little rough around the edges, though. The shattering of the sword Necessity in Siegmund’s hands remains one of the clumsier effects of the production. Brunhilde and Sieglinde’s pleas for protection from the Valkyries also get a bit shrill. But for all that, the act closes profoundly on Wotan’s farewell to Brunhilde, as he puts her to sleep with a kiss and rings her body with a wall of fire that only a hero can penetrate. Plus, the ensemble puppetry of the ride of the Valkyries is pretty cool, too.

 

Siegfried

Two main things brighten the stage during the third episode: O’Connor’s hilarious interpretation of the dwarf Mime and the goofy, delightful, spring-fresh presence of the Woodbirds (Scanlon, Dorcus, and Carapetyan).

AngelofDeath Mime is not a nice guy. He raises young Siegfried, surviving son of Siegmund and Sieglinde, only in order to have him defeat Fafner, the surviving Giant who, with Mime’s magic helmet, has turned himself into a dragon and now guards both Rhinegold and Ring in a cave nearby. Once Fafner is slain, Mime has only to murder Siegfried and the Ring will be his. Dastardly designs indeed! And O’Connor wrings every drop of joyous comic book evil out of the premise.

Of course, Siegfried (Vidal) is Mime’s perfect straight man. Even after he’s magically acquired the ability to read his thoughts and knows all of Mime’s evil plans, he still doesn’t fully get their implications. Similar humorous exchanges occur between Siegfried and the Woodbirds–only with all the charms that the flying girls can bring, which are considerable.

An early visit from Wotan, now in Wanderer mode, reveals that only one who has never known fear can reforge the sword Necessity and defeat Fafner. Siegfried has never known fear because of a) his sheltered upbringing by Mime and b) he’s not the brightest crayon in the box. Still, he’s our hero. He reforges the sword, kills the dragon, and gets the Ring, the magic helmet and, ultimately, the girl—Brunhilde.

Granddad, however, is not doing so well. A brief visit with Erda confirms to Wotan that the end of the gods is nigh. This time, that fabulously bizarre, triple-goddess puppetry that brilliantly informed the first episode falls flat. There simply isn’t a strong, clear-cut emotional exchange between Wotan and Erda during this crucial scene. And, for all the “eternal woman” build-up before Erda’s entrance, she really just looks like a giant Blair Witch with headlights. On top of that, the Oedipal showdown between Wotan and Siegfried, hurrying to Brunhilde, is far too telegraphed and choreographed to maintain interest. It’s a perfunctorily performed scene that only manages to fill dead space.

But, once lovers are united, Vidal and Nalepa make the language soar. Brunhilde may anticipate the loss of personal power in her relationship with Siegfried, but her acquiescence makes the scene a flaming incest fest.

 

Twilight of the Gods

I hardly know which I like more—Gunther (King) and Gutrune (Bhandari) as the feckless and amoral aristocratic brother/sister pair or the black velvet evil of Hagen (Bullion), Alberich’s half-human offspring. Bullion really knows how to let the darkness in, especially during a difficult scene in which Alberich communicates with Hagen during a dream state. That kind of thing would be a sloppy mess in lesser hands, but Bullion’s energy and precision pulls it off with all its uncanny psychological undertones.

rescue But then King and Bhandari toss off their lines and make their characters’ choices with all the careless ease of the over privileged. Too blithe to consider the ramifications of their actions and too spineless to devise or execute their own schemes, they facilely wreak enough damage being led around by the nose by Hagen. Again, this Wagnerian prelude to Nazi theories about class-consciousness and certain people with “bad blood” rises to the surface.

Siegfried, ever the guileless hero, wanders into this pit just after he has bestowed the Ring as a token of love on Brunhilde. One quick sip of a love potion makes him forget all about it. Plighting himself to Gutrune and swearing blood brotherhood to Gunther, he vows to win Brunhilde for Gunther’s wife. Using the magic helmet to disguise himself as Gunther, he penetrates the fiery barrier once again, steals back the Ring, and Gunther drags Brunhilde back with him to the castle.

All through three episodes, Nalepa has carefully plotted Brunhilde’s progress with visibly subtle and nuanced changes in consciousness. Going from immortal shield maiden to mortal woman, independent, inexperienced virgin to sensually dominated lover, Brunhilde now reaches the depths of barren patriarchal disempowerment that make her as embittered and vindictive as Fricka. Lo, how the mighty Valkyrie has fallen. It may be painful to watch but at least every piece is in place. She retaliates Siegfried’s mindless betrayal by revealing to Hagen and Gunther his Achilles’ heel—or, rather, back. It’s one step from there to Siegfried’s demise.

How nice that Siegfried gets one more chance with the eternal feminine through his encounter with the Rhinemaidens at the river. It’s the last big moment for Scanlon, Dorcus, and Carapetyan to shine, where the excellence of their dramatic and acrobatic unity reveals how essential they have been all along. Their deceptively light and playful warning to Siegfried plumbs all kinds of depths about chances not taken and fortune breezily passing one by. How nice it is that, after the death of the hero, the drowning of Hagen, the end of the gods and the retrieval of their Rhinegold, even without sword or shield, the girls finally get what they want.

Rating: ★★★

 

NOTE: Building Stage encourages the audience to bring a picnic or purchase a boxed dinner at least 24 hours in advance from our catering partner Bari Italian Deli. Bring your blanket and join in an onstage wintertime picnic. Snacks and beverages will also be available at the theater during the run of the show

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