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: The Exonerated (La Costa Theatre)

Grueling In storytelling, “The Exonerated” lacks dramatic structure

exonerated

La Costa Theatre presents:

The Exonerated

 

by Jessica Blank and Erik Jenson
directed by Sonia Alexandria
Thru February 7th (ticket info)

review by Paige Listerud

The vibe created by La Costa Theatre’s The Exonerated feels downright 60s-radical–whether it be in the relaying of 6 true cases of wrongly accused men and women from the late 60s and early 70s, or the soft, plaintive guitar performance in the darkened theater space before the show begins. The language used by the wrongly accused/proven innocent reflects the Boomer generation and their perspective on violent, endemic racism and homophobia. Their voices, as performed by cast, ring authentically but that same period element distances the storytelling from the audience.

It relinquishes this play to being a thing of the past, even though it was only just produced in the first years of this century; even though the gross gaps in our justice system still haven’t been rectified.

lacosta But more than an old hippy feeling compounds the challenge of revitalizing these stories and making their pain immediate. Unfortunately, The Exonerated, which stirred some of New York’s biggest stars to perform in it, which was made into a movie with Aidan Quinn and Susan Sarandon, and was presented to Gov. George Ryan as he pondered a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois, sorely lacks critical dramatic structure to make it an enduring work of theater.

Sonia Alexandria strives to keep the direction clean and simple; the minimalism of the barest of sets and strategically crafted lighting creates the right ascetic tone for the production. The effort to craft each story with the actors’ voices and bodies alone is the right move. The trouble is stories exposing some of the grossest injustices inherent in our legal system—stories which should raise hackles on the audience’s heads–get lost in a spliced-up jumble that contains no dramatic arc and raises no stakes. Impact gets lost just where one needs and wants and longs for impact.

Such a deep structural failing cannot be redeemed by the unaffected and earnest performances of a capable cast. That’s too bad, because some manage to achieve deeper resonance than just outrage at what has been done to them. Cliff Ingram’s Delbert Tibs and Theresa Ohanian’s earthy young hippy Sunny remain in the mind long after the lights come up.

For anyone who thinks law enforcement plays out just like the cop shows on TV, The Exonerated will act as an all-too–necessary antidote. For those long familiar with the arbitrary nature of our justice system and the tenuousness of everyday freedom, at the very best The Exonerated will come across as just another day in racist, classist, homophobic America.

Rating: ★★

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