Review: Adrift in Macao (InnateVolution Theater)

  
  

Strong acting, lush visuals can’t overcome acoustic issues

  
  

Rick's Song in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

  
InnateVolution Theater presents
   
Adrift in Macao
  
Book/Lyrics by Christopher Durang
Music by Peter Melnick
Directed by Toma Tavares Langston
at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
thru May 29  | 
tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The Film Noir translated to stage is a brilliant concept. It is one so abstract and far flung from the history of the musical that it would be absurd unless crafted by a master such as Mel Brooks or the playwright Christopher Durang. The Innatevolution Theater gamely tackle Durang’s Adrift in Macao with mixed results. It’s not clear who lifted what from whom in this mélange of music, farce and romance.

Lena Dansdill as Corrina Evil Princess of Desire in InnateVolution Theater's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton PhotographyThe play is set in 1952 when the Noir film was on the wane in favor of saturated Technicolor melodramas with morals dictated by Eisenhower’s America. The loose flowing hair and perceived even more loose morals of the noir goddess was fading to exotic places such as the Portuguese territory of Macao. Opium dens, shady women and racial stereotypes abound and in the midst of it all are the hard drinking and misunderstood American antiheros.

The performances by the Innatevolution cast are quite good – when they aren’t swallowed by the bad acoustics and poor sightlines from bad staging. The performance takes place in what has potential to be a great theater cabaret space. The actors come out and mix among the audience while in character and then are in place for the action to begin with a murder on a supposedly foggy dock in Macao. (Either the fog machine was not working or a cue was missed.) We are introduced to Lureena stranded on the dock in the dark wearing a slinky dress.

Stephanie Souza plays the role of Lureena, the femme fatale fallen on hard times but not yet on her back. Ms. Souza has a nice set of pipes and is beautifully costumed in a sumptuous gown made for Rita Hayworth. Her introduction song, like all of the others, is swallowed by the acoustics and by having to play to both sides of the room. Johnny Kyle Cook plays the role of Rick Shaw who is the owner of ‘Rick Shaw’s Surf and Turf and Gambling Casino". The long name is a running joke that falls flat because the timing is rather flat and the double takes and beats never quite synchronize.

The antihero Mitch is played by Jordan Phelps. He also appears on the dock in a trench coat and fedora singing of being grumpy. The effect is a satirical take on Humphrey Bogart that is given fresh and frenzied energy by Mr. Phelps. He has better projection with his voice and is the most able to hit all sides of the room.

The other bad girl with a bad opium habit is Corinna played by Lena Dansdill. This is a bravura combination of Betty Boop, Theda Bara, and Myrna Loy. Ms. Dansdill is transformed into a caricature amalgam that is visually stunning and funny. When Corinna starts getting her jones on for opiates, she blurts out things such as ‘has anybody seen my glass pipe?’ and then catches herself countering with an absurd request for pancake mix.

     
Tempura's Ugly Bird - scene in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography Lureena and Corrina Fight - a scene in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

Good Luck to you Ladies - scene in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

Ashley Morgan plays the alluring Daisy. Ms. Morgan is a fierce drag actress who introduces herself as a cigarette girl in an exotic cheongsam one minute and then as a freaked out tourist in a Mamie Eisenhower leopard coat the next. Daisy is the native girl who loves the antihero but ends up alone and rejected every time.

I will admit to a bit of discomfort with the character of Tempura (Nico Nepomuceno). Racial stereotyping was rampant in Film Noir. The long suffering Black mother from ‘Imitation of Life’ or the fumbling buffoon played by Mantan Moreland in the Abbott and Costello films or happy and faithful Hop Sing on Bonanza. Mr. Nepomuceno takes the role to an expressionistic extreme mocking the American way of life in the staid 1950’s. On one hand Tempura is laying low and disguised by his so-called inscrutable Asian stereotype wearing traditional attire and the queue braid hiding a baton rather than a weapon. On the other hand Tempura’s character plots the demise of the stupid Americans methodically using their own ignorance against them. Nepomuceno’s performance can’t help but be derivative of Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow from "The Hangover". Jeong and Margaret Cho are the comic standards for turning an Asian stereotype on its head. Some of Mr. Nepomuceno’s performance is uncomfortably funny and like the other characters some of his performance is absorbed into acoustic no-man’s land.

Christopher Thies-Lotito‘s character of Joe is the most clearly heard as a Gildersleeve-type emcee for variations of Rick Shaw’s night clubs.

There are several wonderful moments in this uneven production. The red fan dance is a great send up of both Esther Williams films and the kaleidoscopic June Taylor Dancers choreography. The costumes are spot on with the lurid colors of a Douglas Sirk drama and the wacky spin on Busby Berkeley and Flo Ziegfield . I liked the sly homage to Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" with the flashy duet between Dansdill and Souza.

There needs to be some strategic restaging of this play for it work well. 1) Move the band to the back bar area. They drown out the singing from where they are placed. 2) Use the entire stage facing away from the middle of the room. Whole lyrics are being swallowed into a black hole that neither side can ascertain. 3) Some work needs to be done on the timing to make the farcical aspects of a Noir spoof to work. It may just be sightlines but more plausibly pacing issues.

I do recommend this show (if sound problems are fixed) – and then I recommend that one spends some time checking out such Noir classics as "Gilda", "Out of the Past", or my favorite "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers". The Film Noir is a genre that casts a jaundiced eye on the morals and class war in post war America. This is what Durang was aiming for and this talented cast deserves a chance to hit the mark.

  
  
Rating: ★★
 
 

Corrina's Dressing Room in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

Adrift in Macao runs through May 29th at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr in Andersonville. Check out www.innatevolution.org for more information on the company and performance times.  Tickets are $25.00 which includes 1 well, house wine or Miller Lite drink. Discount Tickets for Students, Industry and Senior Citizens are available. Tickets may be purchased by calling 312-513-1415 or by visiting www.innatevolution.org.

     
      

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REVIEW: The Infernal Machine (InnateVolution Theater)

     
     

An old tale gets an updated retelling

 

Infernal Machine logo

   
InnateVolution Theater presents
   
The Infernal Machine
   
Written by Jean Cocteau
Directed by Dr. Beverle Bloch & Raymond K Cleveland
at
The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through Nov 21  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

The first thing you’ll notice about InnateVolution Theater ProductionsThe Infernal Machine is the venue. The play occupies an unorthodox space, a gay bar specifically. A ring of chairs lines what is normally used as a dance floor while sparkly music videos of disco divas blast on monitors, serving as a strange sort of pre-show.

I’m a firm believer that environment plays a significant role in the theatrical production. And I usually love novel settings. But the choice to perform Jean Cocteau‘s surrealist take on Oedipus in a gay bar where patrons at times spoke over the performers during the first act seemed like a bit of a mistake. Admittedly, by the end of the play, the ambient chatter had quieted down, but it was always a presence and always served as a distraction, even when the actors delivered some pretty strong performances.

But the bar did have a large screen, which was obviously a necessary technical requirement for this play, written by a man known for his offbeat film work. And although I would have liked to have seen more intermingling between the live action of the play and the minimal action that takes place on the screen, the use of visual projections does help establish setting, given the production’s minimal props on stage.

The play itself is a fairly ancient story. It’s the tale of Oedipus, the young man whose future is foretold to be a great tragedy. He’ll one day murder his father and marry his mom. It’s a tale of tragic destiny and the futility of trying to avoid our predetermined futures. It’s also a tale of humility, as Oedipus slowly realizes that even he, conqueror of the Sphinx, is subject to the same rules that dictate all of mankind.

This is my first time to see Cocteau’s version, and from what I gather, it’s basically the same as the original tale minus the ornate poetry of Grecian writing. The language is contemporary; the characters resemble modern-day archetypes. The story is still set back in ancient times, but the characters possess an attitude that make them more relatable to those who live in the here-and-now. Take for example Queen Jocasta (Erin Cline). She’s a drama queen and a half, vamping for the audience and overreacting every time someone steps on her scarf. Cline does a brilliant job bringing this diva to life, making her a very engaging character to watch.

Another wonderful character, and a great comic relief, is the wise old adviser Tiresias (Arne Saupe). Saupe brings to Tiresias a clever sensibility and vaudevillian comedic timing. After all, the old man is blind, which lends itself to a lot of ironic sight gags, and Saupe uses this to full effect.

Much of the rest of the acting is uneven. Experience level seems to vary widely from performer to performer, which serves as a distraction when a scene lags because of one character. At times, the play verges on high school pageantry.

Still, this is a small production by a small theatre company, and overall it is an entertaining show. If you don’t mind a bit of background noise while watching a play, InnateVolution’s The Infernal Machine is a fun night out.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

Performances run November 5 – 21, 2010 at The Call (1547 W Bryn Mawr Ave)
in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago..  Regular performances are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.  Tickets are $20 and include 1 well liquor, house wine, or Miller drinks.

   
   

 

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REVIEW: Big Gay Pudding (White Rainbows)

This pudding needs a dash more passion

Big Gay Pudding - White Rainbow

   
White Rainbows Chicago presents
   
Big Gay Pudding + Ding!
   
at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through October 23  |  tickets: $10-$14  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

I’m unfamiliar with White Rainbows’ previous comedy reviews White Rainbows (2009) and In Gaga We Trust (2010), but their material for Big Gay Pudding, now playing at The Call, shows a young and inexperienced company still in need of training, finesse and daring. Never mind that they are up against a fierce comedy town like this—their sketches alone revealed comics familiar and coy in playful exchanges among each other, but not so sure of just what they were selling the audience. The Call’s terrible club acoustics alone dampened projection and made the performances seem flat and timid.

Big Gay Pudding - White Rainbow At least their openers, Chelsea Devantez and Emily Walker as Ding!, know how to belt it. Much of Ding!’s comedy material is just as coy and queer-centered as White Rainbows’ – but they show greater confidence and control in styling with songs like “Nothing is Worse Than a Man in a Stylish Hat” and “I Will Be Your Fag Hag.” Ding! doesn’t do so well with improvising song responses to questions about their sex lives, mostly because the answers come so pat, short and predictable, without any foray into wordplay. They do far better with prepared songs that celebrate the bygone days of laser tag or saucily promise “Boy, I’m Gonna Rape You Tonight.”

What to do with the White Rainbows? For one, their central sketch about the pudding has to go. In it, the concoction of different, supposedly outlandish (but not really) fruit puddings is supposed to symbolize transgressive queerness. But the sketch itself never goes far enough into daring, new, bold, or funny territory. It comes across more like an in-joke between friends that later falls flat when presented to a wider audience. Likewise, queers throughout history, gay men boasting like straight guys about sexual exploits, and the miraculous powers of straight-acting gays rely all on the in-jokes of tired gay stereotypes, which makes the sketches go from zero to tired in 2.8 seconds.

Far better are the recurring cameo appearances of Winnie the Pooh, played by various cast members dressed in a Pooh costume. The player who came up with this device deserves the gold star. Who cares if it’s a device as old as Monty Python–Kevin Reader’s subtly funny farewell to Pooh in adolescence, followed by reclaiming Pooh as a lover at a gay dating service later, is inspired.

Other sketches wander into familiar territory, but still retain comic heft. Michael Barin and Stanley A. Chong interact well as a gay couple separated only by one partner’s fascination with his new cell phone. Arianna Wheat really sells her role as the bored housewife singing, “I want to be where the strippers are . . .” to the Disney tune “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. A quiz show called “Name That Vampire Drama,” emceed by a vampire, brings home the point of how little originality we demand from entertainment serving up sexy bloodsuckers.

We’ll need to demand more originality and daring from White Rainbows, however. Their strength may be to joke more coyly about queer experience than to be in your face and there’s certainly no need to change that. But have they got the nerve and conviction to take their audience to unexpected places? Or are we still hanging out at the same old pudding party?

   
   
Rating: ★½
  
  

Gay Pudding - White Rainbow - poster

 

 

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