REVIEW: The Water Engine: An American Fable (Theatre 7)

  
  

Suspenseful Mamet play recalls 1930s Chicago

 
 

Cassy Sanders, Brian Stojak and Dan McArdle in Water Engine - Theatre Seven

   
Theatre Seven presents
 
The Water Engine: An American Fable
   
By David Mamet
Directed by Brian Golden
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
Through Dec. 19  | 
Tickets: $12–25  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Set in Chicago in 1934, David Mamet’s rarely mounted 1977 drama, The Water Engine: An American Fable, currently in a beautifully nuanced production by Theatre Seven, takes us back in time to the Century of Progress World’s Fair. Charles Lang, a punch-press operator in a factory by day, dreamy inventor by night, has created an engine that runs on pure water. He dreams it will put an end to factories and bring him a peaceful life in the country with his unworldly sister.

Brett Lee in Water Engine - Theatre SevenChicago history buffs, alternate-history fans and anyone who enjoys great, intimate theater should take this show in. While it’s set too late to be steampunk, this arguably science-fictional play has a similar feel. Brenda Windstead’s 1930s costumes and John Wilson’s sound-stage set transport us to another time, one that almost-but-not-quite existed.

But "autres temps, autres moeurs" does not apply here. In fact, it’s business very much as usual. In his effort to patent his invention, Lang runs afoul of a scheming shyster who tries to sell him and his creation into nefarious corporate hands. I don’t doubt that many would-be world-shaking discoveries meet similar fates today.

Although the plot is stridently black and white, it’s also edge-of-the-seat suspenseful, and Mamet brings in all sorts of fascinating sidelines, such as a recurring theme about a chain letter, period-style advertising and the world’s fair itself. The action cris-crosses Chicago, from the fairgrounds to still-extant spots such as the Aragon Ballroom and Bughouse Square.

Mamet originally wrote this short script, which runs about 80 minutes without intermission, as a radio play, and Director Brian Golden’s exciting staging effectively blends radio-style performance with more animated action in imaginative ways. His cast includes Theatre Seven company members Dan McArdle, Cassy Sanders, Brian Stojak and George Zerante, as well as Brett Lee, Lindsey Pearlman, Cody Proctor, Alina Tabor, Jessica Thigpen and Travis Williams.

Charles Lang in Water Engine - Theatre SevenEach cast member plays multiple roles in this play within a radio play. In fact, the 10 cast members portray over 40 parts, skillfully depicting radio actors, principals in the radio play and random Chicagoans in wonderful character sketches.

In the longest role, Proctor plays Lang with well-executed, nervous nerdiness. Zerante smarms as the crooked lawyer, and Williams menaces as the corporation muscle. Pearlman delightfully segues from refined actress to ranging street-corner orator to gruff storekeeper. Newcomer Tabor adds wide-eyed youthful charm.

The whole ensemble works together like a well-oiled machine.

 
   
Rating: ★★★★   
   
   

Cassy Sanders, Travis Williams, Jessica Thigpen, Brian Stojak, Lindsey Pearlman

All photos by Heather Stumpf

 

 

   
   

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Review: Theatre Seven’s “Cooperstown”

 Cooperstown-8

Theatre Seven presents:

Cooperstown

by Brian Golden
directed by Brian Stojak
thru December 20th (ticket info)

reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

Intertwined aspects of race, love and Civil Rights have been examined ad infinitum in many a previous drama. But with Cooperstown, playwright Brian Golden brings an original perspective to such well-trod topics. The times they are a changin’ in this 1962-set drama. Golden frames those remarkable changes within the context of something altogether ordinary, a Cooperstown diner. Here, as employees toil for a minimal $1.40 an hour, a monumental combination of baseball, racism, social unrest and the arrival of Jackie Robinson collide during one flashpoint weekend.

Cooperstown-9 It’s the basis for a wonderful story and as directed with understated nuance by Brian Stojak, it’s told well on the whole. There’s a refreshing lack of anguished over-emoting by the able cast, even when (especially when) events take on painful, life-changing significance. That’s the upside. The downside goes to the nitty-gritty of Golden’s script. The overall story has terrific potential. Its particulars are pocked with nagging holes and improbabilities that erode its basis in truth.

The first of these is snags apparent almost immediately, as Junior (Cecil Burroughs), the diner’s black supervisor, labors over a notebook. This “report,” Junior insists, is the key to a better life, as it is certain to get him a promotion from white diner owner Jimmy Fletcher. Never mind that Fletcher hasn’t set foot in the restaurant in years – Junior speaks of the notebook as if it possessed magic. It will, he asserts, secure him the title of manager, a pay raise and better working conditions all around. Burroughs plays Junior as a man of intelligence and depth; it simply doesn’t ring true that this character would so naively believe his situation would instantly improve simply by presenting a worn ledger full of hand-written notes to a boss he hasn’t even seen in years. The more Junior talks about how his battered notebook is going to change everything, the more artificial Cooperstown sounds.

There’s a parallel contrivance and lack of specificity with several other plot elements. A photo-op with Jackie Robinson in the diner is somehow directly connected to Governor Rockefeller’s patronage plans. A black protest group defined by the letter “S” (underscored and never explained) decides that “taking down” the diner will achieve…well precisely what it will achieve is as muddled as the link between Robinson’s meal there and the Governor’s job appointments. Finally, there’s a scene late in the story that requires immediate action (to say more would reveal spoilers) by Junior and the staff. But instead of tending to the crisis at hand, all and sundry stand around talking for a prolonged period. Emotional exposition trumps situational veracity.

A different but equally vexing problem is apparent in the all-important, star-crossed love story between Junior and Fletcher’s wife, Grace (Emjoy Gavino.) Despite otherwise fine performances by Burroughs and Gavino, they have no chemistry between them.

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Cooperstown-7 Cooperstown-4

Far believable is the sweet romance between waitress and baseball stat savant Dylan (Tracey Kaplan, sometimes truly difficult to understand thanks to her machine-gun speed speech) and Huck (Chance Bone), a plain-spoken out-of-towner with a similar passion for America’s Pastime. It’s a lovely subplot, although it wouldn’t hurt to tone down Dylan’s tomboy streak a tad – when she becomes almost physically ill after kissing Huck, she seems more like a prepubescent girl than a young woman.

Golden’s got hold of the core of an engaging, important story. It’s got a fine setting in Michelle N. Warner’s believably lived in, detailed diner. Would that the details were more rooted in probability.

 

Rating: ★★

 

Cooperstown continues through Dec. 20 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln, Tickets are $18 general admission, $14 students, seniors and industry. For more information go to www.theatreseven.org or call 773/404-7336.

Show openings and closings this week

chicago

show openings

All My Sons TimeLine Theatre

The Darkest Pit Prop Thtr

Texas Sheen Chemically Imbalanced Theater

The Thin Man City Lit Theater

Under Milk Wood Caffeine Theatre

 

chicagoatnight

show closings

Aladdin Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

The Arabian Nights Lookingglass Theatre (our review)

Boys Life Hangar 9 Theatre

Charlotte’s Web Theatre-Hikes

Deal, New Deal Greenhouse Theater Center

Draft Gorilla Tango Theatre

Dual Duel ComedySportz

Frankenmatt The Second City etc

Idiot Tango Annoyance Theatre

Improv Children of the Corn 2 Cornservatory

Improv Open Mic ComedySportz

Lies & Liars Theatre Seven of Chicago (our review)

Misanthrope, or the Impossible Lovers Vintage Theater Collective

My Fair Lady Light Opera Works (our review)

The People in Your Neighborhood ComedySportz

Six Degrees of Separation Eclipse Theatre (our review)

Yellow Gorilla Tango Theatre

Opening and Closing this week

chicago-withboat

show openings

All My Sons TimeLine Theatre

The Darkest Pit Prop Thtr

Texas Sheen Chemically Imbalanced Theater

The Thin Man City Lit Theater

Under Milkwood Caffeine Theatre

 

distant-chicago-skyline

show closings

Aladdin Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

The Arabian Nights Lookingglass Theatre (read our review)

Boys Life Hangar 9 Theatre

Charlotte’s Web Theatre-Hikes

Deal, New Deal Greenhouse Theater Center

Draft Gorilla Tango Theatre

Dual Duel ComedySportz

Frankenmatt The Second City etc

Idiot Tango Annoyance Theatre

Improv Children of the Corn 2 Cornservatory

Improv Open Mic ComedySportz

Lies & Liars Theatre Seven of Chicago (read our review)

Misanthrope, or the Impossible Lovers Vintage Theater Collective

My Fair Lady Light Opera Works (read our review)

The People in Your Neighborhood ComedySportz

Six Degrees of Separation Eclipse Theatre (read our review)

Yellow Gorilla Tango Theatre

Review: “Lies and Liars” by Theatre Seven of Chicago

Can We Handle the Truth?

 Lies & Liars

Theatre Seven of Chicago at Chicago Dramatists presents

Lies and Liars
Conceived and directed by Margot Bordelon and Cassy Sanderson
Thru August 30 (buy tickets)
Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Margot Bordelon and Cassy Sanderson created and directed Lies & Liars, which investigates the nature of lies and whether our lives would really be better off if we always knew the truth. The story utilized to present the grey area between truth and dishonesty is told through the employees of an international lie protection agency (ALCOR) located in Chicago. In this office holds everyone’s files containing the vast number of lies that have been told to them, including the employees.

Lies & Liars Courtney O’Neil has designed the stage as an average office space separated into individual cubicles by portable walls which are frequently moved around to change the stage to another space/floor within the office. Each employee is introduced with a Zach Morris-style freeze-frame moment (ala Saved By The Bell) where the stage is darkened except for the spot light on the actress/actor and a short humorous bio of the character is displayed. The story follows a newly hired janitor Ben (Brad Smith) as he frets about his recent break-up with his girlfriend and is tempted with the ability to know the truth by reading his own file. As the play develops the scenes change in a rhythmic movement that is at first entertaining, but the constant unnecessary shifting between sets interrupts the character development and loose its clever quality after the first few times it is done.

Lies & Liars The idea of exploring the necessity of lies, and the impact it would have on our lives if we knew the truth about everything and everyone around us is interesting and holds the potential for a meaningful reflection on human nature. Lies & Liars falls short in its effort to question the depth of the nature of lies and its impact on its characters. The script does nothing to further give insight in to the subject matter of truth, and the presentation is plain yet saved by the chemistry and top-notch performance of the cast.

From the opening of the play, Vikki (Marjorie Armstrong) steals the show. Her physical concoctions have you giggling in your seat. She brings life into her character with the stress in her face and a hump in her back. Constantly pushing her body to the extreme of ridiculous, she never even moves a finger without it being in-line with her character. It is the tremendously physical acting with in the whole cast that brings out the personalities of the characters. The script lacks meaningful dialogue that would Lies & Liarsengage the audience and help us understand the emotions and thought process of the characters but the actress/actors make up for the lack of words with their absurd and subtle physical interactions on stage.

The motivations to lie  is explored and classifications and rationalizations are given for why people hide the truth and the possible importance for the existence of dishonesty, although if you are looking for a thought provoking play or even a new perspective on the subject you will be surely disappointed. In the end, the intriguing premise of Lies & Liars by Theatre Seven remains underdeveloped.  Thankfully, however, the acting remained creatively entertaining throughout. So, if you are looking for a meaningless fun time and a chance to see a cast of young rising stars, check out Lies & Liars at Chicago Dramatist.

Rating: «½

 

LiesAndLiars logo

Theater Thursday: “Lies and Liars”

Thursday, August 6

Lies and Liars

Theatre Seven of Chicago at Chicago Dramatists
1105 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago

Lies and LiarsPlease join Theatre Seven of Chicago for a special one-night-only event that includes a performance of Lies & Liars, 15%-off every dinner at DeLux Bar and Grill, and an informal post-show discussion about lies and lying with the show’s creators, accompanied by light snacks! What’s your biggest lie? What if one file held the truth about every lie anyone’s ever told you? Lies & Liars pulls water cooler politics through the rabbit hole in a world two parts The Office, one part Alice in Wonderland. Welcome to ALCOR, international lie protection agency, where Benny Willard is about to find himself face to face with every lie and liar he’s ever met! Let Theatre Seven be your guide to a world where nothing can be trusted.

Show begins at 8 p.m.

TICKETS ONLY $18 (includes show, discussion and snack) 
For reservations call 773-853-3158 and mention "Theater Thursdays."

Dinner: 15% Off any size bill at DeLux Bar and Grill. Mention" Theater Thursdays" to DeLux when booking reservation. Recommend reservation times: 5:30pm-6:45pm

This week’s Chicago theater show openings/closings

2437303-Skyline-Chicago

show openings

The 9/11 Report La Red Music Theatre

Bikerman and the Jewish Avenger Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Bye Bye Birdie Northwestern University Theater

Ching, Chong, Chinaman Silk Road Theatre Project

Fun O’Clock: A Very Special “That’s Weird Grandma” Barrel of Monkeys

Honest Steppenwolf Theatre

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying St. Celestine Theatre

Lies and LiarsTheatre Seven of Chicago

Lorita and Other Dances Theatre Building Chicago

The Mistress Cycle Apple Tree Theatre

Sex with Strangers Steppenwolf Theatre

Six Degrees of Separation Eclipse Theatre

Ski Dubai Steppenwolf Theatre

Waiting for Godot Redtwist Theatre

 

chi-skyline-narrow

show closings

Anti-Social Darwinism and High School Musical 4: Come Hell or Heil Water Donny’s Skybox

Boleros for the Disenchanted Goodman Theatre 

Busman’s Honeymoon Lifeline Theatre

Cloclo Chicago Center for the Performing Arts

The Conduct of Life The Viaduct

Consume Gorilla Tango Theatre

A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking Buffalo Theatre Ensemble

Death Roast Annoyance Theatre

Hedda Gabler Raven Theatre

Hitched! Donny’s Skybox

Posers Donny’s Skybox

A Song for Coretta Eclipse Theatre

Super Happy Fun Show Corn Productions

Uncle Vanya TUTA Theatre Chicago

Wanted Gorilla Tango Theatre

What We May Be Gorilla Tango Theatre

special ticket offers

$15 tickets to The Great American Nudie Spectacular! by Scratch Media at Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont. TBC is offering a limited number of discount tickets for the following performances:  Friday, July 24, and Saturday, July 25, both at 10:30 p.m. The discount is available for these two performances only. Call the box office at 773-327-5252 and mention this offer.