REVIEW: Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Remy Bumppo)

Now we know why the French have their own kiss

 

liaison

 
Remy Bumppo presents:
 
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
 
by Christopher Hampton
based on novel by Pierre Choderlos De Laclos
directed by David Darlow
at The Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 2nd (more info | buy tickets)
 
review by Katy Walsh 

Before the inventions of texting, reality television and video games, people, at least the French Aristocrats, unleashed their passions with love letters, self-created drama and sexual conquests. Remy Bumppo presents Les Liaisons Dangereuses, an 18th century tale of love, lust and revenge. The Madame de Merteuil and the Le Vicomte de Valmont are lovers turned friends turned game players. Merteuil enlists Vicomte to seduce Cecile. Merteuil wants to disgrace Cecile’s betrothed who happens to be vert Mme Merteuil (Rebecca Spence)_Valmont (Nick Sandys) Merteuil’s former lover. Vicomte is currently wooing a married Madame de Tourvel for his own personal best in conquering a woman of moral integrity. Vicomte agrees to Merteuil’s side project because Cecile’s mother badmouthed him to Tourvel. As a reward, Merteuil agrees to have sex with Vicomte if he produces written proof of his affair with Tourvel. Let the games begin! But who’s playing who? Explaining why the French had a kiss named after them, Les Liaisons Dangereuses erupts with passionate trysts for a sexually charged escapade of entertainment.

The Hugh Hefner of the 18th century, Vicomte (Nick Sandys) is the original playboy. A charming and confident Sandys nails the part and the ladies with a tongue well versed for intercourse. Sandys glides through the lengthy discourse with witty elegance. With promises to “dominate your sex and avenge my own”, Merteuil (Rebecca Spence) is Vicomte’s opponent in games of lust and cruelty. Despite the missing years of bitter heartache, Spence’s facial expressions are deliciously diabolical serving up brutality with wide-eyed smiling innocence. Margaret Katch (Cecile) is perfect as a promiscuous teen in secret rebellion against her mother. David Darlow directs the cast through the dialogue heavy script at a quick pace with thoughtful pauses for dramatic climax.

horiz Mme Merteuil (Rebecca Spence)_Cecile (Margaret Katch) horiz Mme Tourvel (Linda Gillum)_Valmont (Nick Sandys)
horiz Emilie (Sienna Harris) and Valmont (Nick Sandys) vert2 Valmont (Nick Sandys)_Mme Merteuil (Rebecca Spence) liaison

Multiple scenes occur transporting the action from salon to bedroom in various locales. Alan Donahue cleverly reuses the furniture and paintings with modified positions to illustrate the vary of address. Chambermaids rotate a screen on rollers and a daybed effortlessly to make the scene transformations seamless. The costumes by Emily Waecker are exquisite for a visual history lesson on outer and under wear. Vicomte’s coats would be the envy of Liberace with their elaborate finery. Merteuil dons a multiple layer gray silk monstrosity that wouldn’t be figure flattering but still appealing for its classiness.

The award winning playwright Christopher Hampton penned a clever adaption of the up and downside of immorality. Actualizing his script, Remy Bumppo delivers multiple orgasmic moments in this production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

 
Rating: ★★★★
 

horiz Cecilie (Margaret Katch)_Valmont (Nick Sandys)

 

 

Extra Credit: Illustrated Field Guide (PDF)
As part of their “think theatre” mission, Remy Bumppo creates a production guide designed to enrich your theatre experience.  Hard copies of this field guide can be purchased for $5.00, and archived guides for previous seasons are available for $10.00.  To purchase a field guide, contact Stephanie Kulke via e-mail or at 773-244-8119.

Running Time: Two hours and forty-five minutes with intermission

           

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Review: Eclipse Theatre’s “Six Degrees of Separation”

 Relationships Have Their Limits 

 L-R: Paul (Michael Pogue) describes his stolen thesis paper to Ouisa (Karen Yates), Flan (Eric Leonard) and Geoffrey (John Milewski) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare, directed by Steve Scott.

Eclipse Theatre presents:

Six Degrees of Separation
by John Guare 
directed by Steve Scott
thru August 30 (Buy tickets online)

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

WHAT IS THE POINT of being related to everyone else on the planet, if the daily connections between those one is closest to are thin, shallow, and brittle to the point of snapping? That is the central theme of John Guare’s most famous play, Six Degrees of Separation, produced by Eclipse Theatre at The Greenhouse Theatre upstairs studio. Sadly, as proficient, or even inspired, as individual performances may be, a startling lack of contrast between what is and what could be in the relationships between various characters reduces this production to a flat, if interesting exercise.

L-R: Flan (Eric Leonard) receives a gift from Paul while Larkin (Joe Mack), Ouisa (Karen Yates) and Kitty (Rebecca Prescott) try to find Paul's father, in Eclipse Theatre's production of "Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare, directed by Steve Scott. Perhaps this particular studio space simply cannot allow for enough varying levels of play. In scenes which require most of the cast, Steve Scott’s direction clumps half to one side and half to the other, forcing an almost two-dimensional interaction, and reducing the actors to bodies onstage. Also, this ensemble play still lacks strong ensemble feeling. Characters may be distant from each other, but actors should not be; this play demands that the history between most characters be inferred from just a few lines.

Having said that, there’s no denying the excellence of individual performances. Michael Pogues’ portrayal of Paul, the young black man who dupes the upper echelons of New York society into believing that he is the son of Sidney Poitier , is subtle, knowing, and the high point of the production. Pogue is as much a dream weaver as his character and his performance is a joy to watch.

Ouisa’s (Karen Yates) progress under Paul’s inspiring, if illusory, influence is driven, engaging, and realistic. Ouisa may never be a Zen master, but she does move from shallow, materialistic social climber to a woman intrigued by the potential for expansive, more meaningful relatedness. The rapid-fire exchanges between Ouisa and her husband, Flan (Eric Leonard), whether about art deals, social machinations, or Paul’s transgressions, are fun displays of technical virtuosity.

Ousia (Karen Yates) dreams about Paul (Michael Pogue) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare, directed by Steve Scott. What a pleasure to see Guy Massey (Dr. Fine) and John Milewski (Geoffrey) well-cast and exemplifying the complete embodiment of small roles. Michael Gonring also does a solid turn as the awkward, closeted young college student that Paul seduces to extract information on the upper classes he seeks to infiltrate.

However, at this particular moment, Six Degrees of Separation may demand more from younger cast members than the adults. Sadly, our palates have been jaded (if not utterly revolted) by a steady stream of obnoxious rich kids in dramas, reality TV shows, and as vapid celebrities in their own right. As of 2009, we suffer from over-exposure to the bad behavior of the celebrity rich. The greatest challenge, through acting and direction, is to humanize the parent-child relationships of the play and to individualize each young person’s role, regardless of how few lines or how spoiled the characters are. Otherwise, the danger is that the audience will tune out and not care.

It matters because this is the background against which Ouisa evolves her relationship—or fantasy of a relationship—with Paul. The rapport that she and Paul creaL-R: Rick (Nick Horst), Elizabeth (Laura Coover) and Paul (Michael Pogue) celebrate exciting news in Eclipse Theatre's production of "Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare, directed by Steve Scott. te during his desperate phone call to her, before his arrest, needs greater contrast with the connections, or lack of them, that Ouisa has with her own children and husband. Likewise, a stronger sense of history between her and Flan would lend body and contrast to the overall production. Every relationship, no matter how simpatico with regard to interests, has its irritations, its compromises, and its resignations. Ouisa’s exposure to Paul magnifies what little Ouisa has settled for while she pursued having it all. Now, will she go on settling or will something have to give?

Rating: «««

All photos by Scott Cooper.

 

Review: Eclipse Theatre’s “A Song for Coretta”

The Way We Live Now: Promise and Disillusionment in Pearl Cleage’s “A Song for Coretta”

The cast of Pearl Cleage's 'A Song for Coretta', now being presented by Chicago's Eclipse Theatre Company

Eclipse Theatre Company returns to Pearl Cleage’s work with A Song for Coretta, after successfully featuring her as a playwright, novelist, and poet throughout their 2007 season. Eclipse’s 2007 production of her first play, Blues for an Alabama Sky, won several Jeff Awards, plus a Ruby Dee Award from the Black Theatre Alliance for the actress TayLar.. (who is presently playing the character of Helen in this production).

All the women in A Song for Coretta come to honor and memorialize Coretta Scott King on the rainy evening of her funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church. But what can they do with Coretta’s memory, or memory of the Black Civil Rights era, in the face of the dire challenges that eviscerate their community today? Cleage strives to regenerate the meaningfulness of that memory in the presence of generational divisions, between those for whom the Civil Rights struggle is still within living memory and those for whom it either lives only as a stirring image of African American unity, or does not live at all, since its limited benefits are no match against today’s corrosive injustices.

A Song for Coretta TayLar is pitch-perfect as the stalwart, churchgoing Helen, the only mourner present who has actually met Coretta Scott King; Niccole Thurman’s Zora conveys an earnest college student, covering the funeral for NPR, who is completely unconscious of her own naïveté; Kelly Owens’ Mona Lisa, a resourceful, bohemian Katrina survivor, embodies the kind of soulfulness that truly suggests magic; Kristy Johnson’s Keisha is by turns fiery, obstinate, arrogant, and vulnerably lost; Ebony Wimb’s Gwen comes across as stiff, even for an Iraq War veteran, yet she maintains the power to convey Gwen’s trauma simply with her eyes.

No one can deny the gifts or intentionality of the cast. Still, there is only so much that talent and stagecraft can bring to an incomplete work. The trouble is that they are trying to do so much with so little—an interesting situation, since it stands in direct relation to the dilemmas faced by the characters.

As badly as we need a play like this, Cleage may be trying to pack too much into one act. The result is a severely abridged overview of the African American generation gap, plus gangsta culture, plus Katrina, plus the Iraq war. Sadly, this gives the play a “movie of the week” quality. Characters are introduced as emblems of issues, not in-depth characters in their own right, so the conflicts between them are superficially addressed, as are the issues they are supposed to represent. There are humorous as well as riveting moments, but nothing that comes close to the knowing wit and complex insight with which Cleage has regaled readers and audiences in the past.

Songs-for-Coretta-3 Part of the problem lies in how the Black Civil Rights era is remembered in the play. Much as we may love Helen–with her church lady demeanor, her tailored dress, her tightly coiffed helmet of gray hair, and her outrage over the current generation’s insolent sloppiness, ignorance, and apathy–her representation of that era belies all the dangers of perceiving it through rose-colored glasses. If Helen was a child during the Montgomery bus boycott, then surely she grew into adulthood during the 60s and 70s, during the rise of the Black Power movement, the assassinations of Dr. King, Malcolm X, JFK, and Robert Kennedy; during the equally devastating crisis of the Vietnam War. There is nothing halcyon about Helen’s past and therefore no real reason to have her only portray that past beatifically to Zora.

Likewise, Keisha’s role in the play is also troublesome. She is supposed to be emblematic of the unrealized promise of the struggle for civil rights. While war metaphors are linked, and rather stiltedly, through an exchange between Mona Lisa and Gwen over Katrina and Iraq, there is hardly any acknowledgement in the play of the gang war conditions that have ravished Keisha’s life of education, opportunity, or a sense of history. A few of her lines just barely suggest it: “Old people are always talking about somebody died for us. Well people die all the time nowadays, in case you hadn’t noticed, and it don’t even matter what for—they still just as dead.” This is why her decision to forego abortion is no more comforting than the song–“This Little Light of Mine”–the women sing together at the end. Both seem like band-aids on interminable problems.

One can only hope that A Song for Coretta is an embryo for future work. We sorely need playwrights like Pearl Cleage, who will question the value of freedom, especially if it only means being free to carry out the state’s imperialistic adventures. Indeed, as there are outlier studies which show that schools are more racially segregated now than during Jim Crow, then in the year 2009, in every way that truly matters, we may be back to square one.

Rating: ««

A Song For Coretta by Pearl Cleage
Buy Tickets
A Midwest Premiere
Directed by ensemble member Sarah Moeller
June 11 – July 26, 2009
at The Greenhouse Theater
2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8:30pm
Sundays at 3:30pm

Video footage of A Song for Coretta:   Video 1 and Video 2

Songforcoretta-old

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