Review: Before and After (Theatre Momentum)

     
     

Too many actors in the kitchen muddle interesting concept

     
     

'Before and After' at the Apollo Theater, presented by Theatre Momentum

  
Theatre Momentum presents
  
Before and After
  
Directed by Tony Rielage
at the Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 7  |  tickets: $8-$10  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

In Chicago, improv is as synonymous with comedy as the Cubs are with losing. However, there is nothing about improvisational performance that inherently means humor. Most any acting school uses improv as experimentation in training to create performances that are urgent and honest. Theatre Momentum is an exciting theatre company poised to illuminate this fact with their mission of creating narrative based improv. Within the basement space at the Apollo Theater, director Tony Rielage and his company of improvisers have taken upon a notable artistic endeavor with their new production, Before and After. In the end, unfortunately it proves too overwhelming to succeed. While they 'Before and After' at the Apollo Theater, presented by Theatre Momentummay continue to evolve the structure, presently it exists in a state that is fairly entertaining in its high points, yet despite talented performers, falls flat more often than not during this extraneously long show.

The conceit of director Tony Rielage and his troop is to create a fresh narrative each performance, through improvisation, that follows a single character in the midst of a life-changing event, played by two actors in two different stages of the character’s life. The rest of the cast fill in the supporting roles. The performance I attended revolved around a Mark Zuckerberg type character that created a lucrative website encapsulating every internet obsession: web videos, online dating and the sale of ironic Jesus t-shirts. Derek Van Barham and Adam Ziemkiewicz played the central character in different moments of his life. Van Barham was exceptionally sharp as the younger version of the character in his cold manipulative discovery of how the internet can give him power. While Ziemkiewicz added heart to the story, the details of the events surrounding his version of the character were muddy. The life changing event was apparently the marriage of his lifelong love (played by Julie Chereson grounded with charming truthfulness).

As the format exists currently, 90 minutes seemed to cause the group to have to stretch for time and devise improvised scenes that were meaningless and bordering on incoherence. Also, the need to include each of the dozen cast members throughout the show takes too much focus away from the central relationship to carry any gravity. Nevertheless, there were a few impressive moments where these intelligent actors developed some heartfelt relationships, such as Van Barham and Peter Athans in a scene in which a son interviews his divorced father for a dating video to be posted online. Theresa Ohanian brings life and vitality to every scenario she is involved in, proving to have the sharpest wit and most guts in this cast. Athans is also a standout bringing the most truth, empathy and maturity to the stage. All the while, these strong actors come across as wasted talent in the daunting task to create a meaningful piece of theatre with few structural setups to guide their journey.

'Before and After' at the Apollo Theater, presented by Theatre MomentumAs time goes on, this cast may find ways to tighten up their stories and create higher stakes in scenes. While it may go against their mission, I hope that this company may take moments that work well and carry it over to following performances to build upon. I would love to see this very same cast and director tackle a slightly more developed production still utilizing their improvisational skills. If there were a solidified structure for these actors to play in, I feel that it would result in even more creativity. What we get now is far too large a canvas, too many paints and too many artists to give the audience a finished product that can be appreciated in its totality.

Still, Before and After may prove to be an interesting and worthwhile outing for hardcore fans or practitioners of improvisational performance. It certainly offers something different than the likes of iO and The Annoyance. While focused on dramatic narrative, there are still a handful of laughs and sketch moments. Nevertheless, as a piece of theatre it doesn’t quite hold up. It especially doesn’t hold up for a full 90 minutes. It’s a delicate balance between keeping the performances fresh and improvised, while also achieving a consistently coherent narrative within the structure Rielage has devised. The format may benefit from either adding a more preconceived plot to their plays, or condensing the action and losing a few cast members. Theatre Momentum has yet to figure out the correct formula, but they are worth keeping a close eye on.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

'Before and After' at the Apollo Theater, presented by Theatre Momentum

Before and After is a 90-minute long performance at the Apollo Theater Studio, 2540 North Lincoln Avenue, and runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 PM through May 7, 2011. Tickets are $10 Fridays and Saturdays, and $8 Thursdays. Reservations may be made through the Apollo Theater box office at (773) 935-6100 and at www.ticketmaster.com.

  

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REVIEW: Glitter in the Gutter (Annoyance Theatre)

Filthy. Gorgeous. A bit of a Drag.

glitter-gutter photo: Zach Dodson

Annoyance Theatre presents:

Glitter in the Gutter

**The first and only live Drag Queen Sitcom**

written and directed by Kellen Alexander
through March 11 (more info)

By Keith Ecker

Who among us has not pondered the secret lives of drag queens? When the lights at the cabaret fade and the bar lets its regulars loose upon the night, where does the entertainment go? And what of the less successful divas, those that harbor Ru Paul dreams while clunking around in chintzy platform heels?

Glitter in the Gutter, a new play produced by Annoyance Productions and directed and written by Kellen Alexander, tells this story. Or to be more precise, it tells the story of two particular drag queens who are tragically trashy, down on their luck and caught on the cusp of eviction.

glitter-poster The play opens on the shared apartment of Pepper LaRoo (Seth Dodson) and Velveeta Fitzgerald (Wes Perry). Pepper, slender, graceful and nursing a throbbing head, is the Patsy to Velveeta’s somewhat more grounded Edina (see AbFab). The headache interferes with Pepper’s memory of the night prior, but she does recall meeting a man whose number she stored in her phone.

Enter Beverly Poon (Sarah Fineout), a rival performer with a voice that sounds like she’s gargling gravel. It is through her that Pepper discovers the man she met the night before was none other than Vinnie Cancer (Ben Kass), a famous record producer. Of course, this sends Pepper and Velveeta into a tizzy. They decide to invite Vinnie over for a date with the ulterior motive of landing a record contract.

When Vinnie stops by, he hands Pepper a slip of paper to fulfill her wish. Wanting a piece of the fame pie, Velveeta attempts to woo Vinnie to sign her as well. Caring more for image than talent, Vinnie lets Velveeta down hard. Little does Vinnie know that his newfound flame can move her mouth to music but is completely tone deaf.

Scorned, Velveeta runs away from home. She befriends a bag lady (Rachel Reed) in the alley out back and settles down for a life of domesticity and Dumpsters.

The play is the kind of over-the-top, absurdist comedy reminiscent of Charles Busch or John Waters . It’s campy, it’s crass and it’s unapologetically gay. But wash off the rouge and the eye shadow, and the play’s flaws become more apparent.

Although Alexander is obviously talented—he, along with Dodson, are part of the phenomenal improv group 1, 2, 3, Fag! — he seems overwhelmed with managing writing and directing duties. Likely unable to give both adequate attention, the writing and the pacing of the play suffer from a lack of concision.

Jokes that would otherwise kill fall flat when the punch line gets lost in a tangle of words. Also, too often too much is said that could easily have been accomplished with action. This slows down the pacing of the overall play, making the first act in particular feel like a drag.

It is in the subtleties that Alexander excels. One of the funniest parts of the play is when Officer Rick Pony (Alex Moffat) makes his entrance wearing roller shoes. No dialogue needed. The same goes with the inclusion of a window that is operated off stage by a pulley. It’s a simple and cheesy stage piece that serves a purpose and is used to great comedic effect.

Dodson and Perry are both talented actors. Dodson’s delivery and soft-spokenness, his agile dance moves and his comedic timing make him an attention magnet. Perry, who sounds an awful lot like Mrs. Garrett from the Facts of Life, has a strong voice and a commanding presence as well.

I have to give special recognition to Reed, whose deadpan portrayal of an off-kilter homeless woman is a scene-stealer. She also is fortunate to have the best dialogue in the entire play.

If Glitter in the Gutter aspires to be in the same ranks as other campy classics, it misses its mark. But it’s an entertaining piece none-the-less that is sure to please fans of kitsch and drag.

Rating: ★★½

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