Review: Magpie Project’s “The Happy Family Series”

A Weird and Gifted “Family” Pulls It Together

happy-family-poster

The Magpies Project present:

The Happy Family Series:
Demonstrations Exploring “Harmonic Antagonisms

inspired by P.T. Barnum’s “The Happy Family
Curated by Shawn Reddy
Emceed by H.B. Ward a.k.a. "The Tamer"
thru December 6th at Viaduct Theatre (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

I hardly knew what to make of the press put out by The Magpies Project over The Happy Family Series: Demonstrations Exploring “Harmonic Antagonisms” inspired by P. T. Barnum’s museum piece “The Happy Family.” Living by the creed “There’s a sucker born every minute,” Barnum constructed a fallacious exhibit wherein an assortment of animals, both predators and prey, were forced to live in harmony with each other as a spectacle of example to humankind. As such, The Magpie Project’s own assortment of talented misfits, drawn together from the usual fringe theater suspects, could easily be collected under any random title. Maybe the overwhelming wholesomeness of the holiday season has wormed its way into the company’s artistic direction. Never mind. Any excuse to see these performers is good one.

viaduct Emceeing the madness is H. B. Ward, aka “The Tamer,” who delivers the funniest, most intelligent opening comic monologue I’ve witnessed in years. He’s a man in complete control of the audience—without need of whips and little need of chairs! Most of the rest of the collection, curated by Shawn Reddy, follows in this comic and quirky vein. Whether any of it refers to family hardly matters, but one will find some startling depth along with the laughs.

The first weekend run in particular saw a short memoir simply read aloud by writer and critic Brian Nemtusak. It was the sort of thing one might hear on Public Radio’s This American Life, only with greater psychological depth, quiet power, and less desperate need to please the audience. It came closest to all the evening’s exhibits in articulating the antagonisms between three generations of men and what each generation tried to do to compensate for them. Ira Glass, eat your heart out.

Other sketches executed by Ian Belknap and Edward Thomas-Herrera, such as the subtext of corporate meetings and the dramatic, glamorous imaginings of a lone gay child, were more conventionally funny, but no less entertaining for being so. Far more far out performances were dealt by the musical stylings of Jenny Magnus of Curious Theatre and Chris Schoen of Theatre Oobleck.  I kept thinking Jenny was coming up with any old excuse to sing her songs under the rubric of “family.”

Stopping by to see The Happy Family Series over the next few weeks will be more than worth your while. Who knows, maybe the oddness of the “exhibits” will strike some familial similarity.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Curated by Shawn Reddy
Emceed by H.B. Ward A.K.A. "The Tamer"

Featuring work by: Martha Bayne, Ian Belknap, Dave Buchen, Chris Bower, Eiren Caffall, Mark Chrisler, Robin Cline, Barrie Cole, Elvisbride Band, Idris Goodwin, David Isaacson, David Kodeski, Jenny Magnus, Brian Nemtusak, Beau O’Reilly, David Pavkovic and Vicki Walden (of DOG), The Lawrence Peters Outfit, Diana Slickman, Edward Thomas-Herrera, and David Wilcox.

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Chicago theater openings/closings this week

chicagoriverblast

show openings

A You Like It Loyola University

Burlesque Is More Annoyance Theatre 

Gossamer Adventure Stage Chicago

High Holidays Goodman Theatre

Horrible Apollo Theatre

Murder in Green Meadows Citadel Theatre

The Music Man Rising Stars Theatre

Phedra New World Repertory Theater

The Shape of Things University of Chicago

Shootin’ the Shit with EJ and TJ Annoyance Theatre

The Spectacular Comedy Spectacle Theatre Building Chicago

When She Danced TimeLine Theatre

Young Frankenstein Cadillac Palace Theatre

 

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show closings

An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Dr. John Faustus on His Final Evening Theater Oobleck 

Arsenic and Old Lace Northwestern University 

Bastards of Young Tympanic Theatre

Calls to Blood The New Colony

Cotton Patch Gospel Provision Theater

Everyone’s Favorite Lobster Gorilla Tango Theatre

Fake Steppenwolf Theatre

The Flowers About Face Theatre

The House on Mango Street Steppenwolf Theatre

Kill the Old Torture Their Young Steep Theatre

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Filament Theatre

Lettice and Lovage Redtwist Theatre

Lucinda’s Bed Chicago Dramatists

Night Watch Jedlicka Performing Arts Center

Rhymes with Evil InFusion Theatre

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life) American Theater Company

 

List courtesy of The League of Chicago Theatres 

Review: Theatre Oobleck’s “An Apology….Delivered by Doctor John Faustus…”

Colm O’Reilly Slays As the Bad Doctor

 Colm O'Reilly as Faustus. Photo credit: Kristin Basta.

Theatre Oobleck presents:

An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events
Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening

by Mickle Maher
thru October 24th (reserve tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Colm O'Reilly as Faustus. Photo credit: Kristin Basta. It was 9 years ago, at the Berger Park coach house, when I first encountered Mickle Maher’s play, An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening. The coach house set an eerie gothic tone, as did the robes that swathed Colm O’Reilly as Mephistopheles–out from under which Mickle Maher crawled to play the bad doctor. That opening moment, complete with a candle balanced silently on Mephistopheles’ head, sealed the suggestion of magic, the transcendence of time and space, that dominates the legendary pact between Dr. Faustus and the Devil. It also seemed to suggest from the start Faustus’ subjugation to Mephistopheles. Maher’s performance was light, mercurial; he played for laughs and there are plenty of them–laughter against impending darkness.

In Theatre Oobleck’s current revival, Colm O’Reilly’s interpretation of Dr. Faustus already starts darker and weightier than Maher’s. But then the stage setting in Chopin Theatre’s basement studio lends itself to a leaner, darker, and more modern tone. The basement is utterly black; the closing of the room’s long black sliding door implies that audience and cast are being sealed in hell. Only two hanging pendant lamps provide lighting—and, oh yes, the Exit sign. The audience is set up in two opposing rows, giving the stage the look a fashion runway, with Mephistopheles (David Shapiro) planted silently at one end.

Memory is a curse, particularly when it cannot allow for the introduction of new impressions. The trouble is that, back at the coach house, O’Reilly’s Mephistopheles was so superb. Positioned at the center of dramatic space, with nary a single word or gesture, he fully embodied the Hell of Maher’s text:

Hell . . . where it’s said there is no Time, that the infinity of Time is snuffed by a larger infinity, a Time so vast it swallows our miniscule eternity, swallows even Heaven’s eternity . . . An infinity just too, too excessive. Excessive to the point of unholy meaninglessness.

It was around O’Reilly’s centralizing void that Maher’s Dr. Faustus could only dance.

logo At best, Shapiro’s Mephistopheles seems a perverse tabula rasa upon which Faustus projects his own evil. And project he does. Nothing in the production chills more than the voice O’Reilly switches to when relaying how he and the Devil supposedly conversed throughout Faustus’ last day. I say supposedly, because it’s implied that all conversations—indeed, all events, time travel, and wondrous discoveries—are occurring only in the depths of Faustus’ mind. If that is the intention, it is one that shifts this play toward the modern, in that it banishes magic from the play.

By magic, I only mean the Supernatural. More than enough magic abounds from O’Reilly’s performance. I don’t know how many have tired yet of critics comparing O’Reilly with Orson Welles. But where that comparison works in the play’s favor is in his ability to portray a genius utterly absorbed with his own self-importance. The darkness O’Reilly brings to the role doesn’t just lend gravity to Faustus’ outbursts, but creates with them an inexorably magnetic pull toward madness. “I don’t need to apologize to the whole world. I’m sick of the world,” says Faustus. Lines that could sound like clichéd world-weariness from another actor emerge from O’Reilly like a black vortex of futility, making his Faustus the evil of which he speaks. It’s a performance that unifies the Devil and the Devil’s prey.

Rating: ««««

Chicago-to-NYC theatre happenings

Critically-acclaimed The Strangerer (our review), produced by Theatre Oobleck and Scott Morfee, will be pulling up stakes and moving to New York’s Barrow Street Theatre, opening there on July 13th.

The minimalistic new musical The Adding Machine, produced by Next Theatre and Scott Morfee, will be ending their long run at New York’s Minetta Lane Theatre, accumulating a run of 16 previews and 149 regular performances.

"The Strangerer" moving to New York

Theater Oobleck’s acclaimed production of Mickle Maher’s The Strangerer will conclude an extended Chicago run on June 29 before taking the show to New York for performances at the Barrow Street Theatre in the West Village, beginning July 9, 2008. Here is an scene from this productions:

 

Produced by Theater Oobleck, in association with the Barrow Street Theatre, the production is slated for an initial six-week run and will feature original Chicago cast members Guy Massey, Mickle Maher, Colm O’Reilly, and Brian Shaw.