Review: El Stories – Red Line (Waltzing Mechanics)

     
     

Passionate passengers tell their stories

     
    

CTA red line belmont stop

  
Waltzing Mechanics present
  
El Stories: Red Line
   
Adapted and Directed by Thomas Murray
at
City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through Feb 23  | 
tickets: $10  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

As it crosses the city, the Red Line delivers its own cross-section within every car on each train. This inexhaustible supply of “war stories”–from bemused or outraged commuters and less than passive passengers–supplies the oral histories in Waltzing Mechanics’ hour-long trove of an urban travelogue.

waltzing mechanics - el storiesAs fluid as their material, the ten young performers, smoothly blocked by adaptor Thomas Murray, keep their imaginary el ride real. There’s a story for almost every stop from Jackson to Howard, with the action as random and revealing as accidental encounters and unintended intimacies deliver. Happily, given the Mechanics’ tough-loving sympathy for life’s underdogs, there’s little condescension in these vignettes.

So, not only do we hear about the homeless guy who took a dump on the Jackson stop’s platform, we also learn how in his crazy way he tried to warn his fellow travelers not to look before, well, nature took its course.

Imagine the craziest Red line trip you could take from downtown through Uptown to Rogers Park, with close encounters that are sometimes, well, too close for comfort. Along the wild way you meet a loud huckster who creates fake gospel songs to promote her incoherent promotions. A bicyclist who’s also a serial abuser of books from the CPL carefully wraps up evidence of his neglect. A cute blue-eyed stranger reluctantly reveals why he’s heading west–by showing the needle marks on his arms that he hopes will gradually fade away.

     
el train interior CTA red line wilson stop

A screamer discharges his mania at the station and suddenly silences himself on the train. Between naps, a drunk eats the world’s largest sub sandwich. News of Patrick Swayze’s death spreads like wildfire throughout a car. There’s a caped crusader, two very inept flash-mob “twins,” a diva who cleans her eyeliner brush on the seat, out-of-control kids, an imbecile who thinks the Union Jack is the Nazi swastika, a hand that goes up the wrong butt during a tight trip, a group of guys whose sexist rap is spread all over the car, a jerk who confuses a brush with a push, and all those who just don’t want to get involved, even when someone needs help.

All that the CTA provides so generously for only $2.25 is even more concentrated in this wacky assemblage (which at $10 is a bargain as well). Judging from the title, it’s far from finished, not when there’s still blue, brown, pink, purple and green lines left to expose.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
   

cta subway train

El Stories continues through February 23rd, with 8pm performances Monday-Wednesday @ City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr.  $10 general admission at door; advanced tickets available here.  More info: waltzingmechanics.org/EL_Stories.html 


Artists

 

Adapted from original interviews and directed by Thomas Murray

Featuring Bryan Campbell, Nick Chandler, Zack Florent, Lance Hill, Keely Leonard, Eric Loughlin, Adrienne Matzen, Eleni Pappageorge, Shariba Rivers, and Margaret Scrantom.

Stage managed by Tina Frey

  
  

REVIEW: Living Quarters (Strangeloop Theatre)

This gem is exquisitely polished

living-quarter

Strangeloop Theatre presents:

Living Quarters

 

by Brian Friel
directed by Thomas Murray
through March 14th (more info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Thomas Murray is a long time scholar of Brian Friel, the Irish playwright best known in America for Dancing at Lughnasa. The Mid-America Theatre Conference named him an Emerging Scholar for his research on Friel. How happy for Chicago’s theater community that his turn as director crafts the subtle and balanced execution of an earlier, more experimental play of Friel’s, Living Quarters: after Hippolytus, now at Trap Door Theatre. Small and simply produced by Strangeloop Theatre, it is the very definition of excellence.

living-quarter Written in 1977, Friel ventured away from overtly political theater toward using meta-theatrical devices and non-linear storytelling. Through Sir (Jillian Rafa), the play’s own deconstructionist, the drama examines a critical day in the life of an Irish family. Living Quarters shows strong Chekhovian influences. Murray’s superbly balanced cast transposes the shifts from action to reflection on the action with all the smoothness of liquid silk, making the transitions seem effortless and familiar.

Commandant Frank Butler (James Houton) is being honored at the pinnacle of his military career—a career that, more often than not, absented him far from family life. Daughter Helen (Danni Smith), returning from her life in London, joins sisters Tina (Kelley Minneci) and Miriam (Kathryn Bartholomew) in preparations for the big day. Their estranged and somewhat derelict brother, Ben (Martin Monahan), also rejoins the family in celebration, while the deconstructive storytelling unveils to the audience his illicit affair with his father’s new, young wife Anna (Shannon Bracken).

In the course of reviewing precarious family dynamics, the play floods with memories–joyous, convivial memories and, inevitably, dark and regretful ones. Heavy among these are the family’s memories of the commandant’s former wife, a strict and exacting invalid with a severe case of class prejudice. Past incidents between Ben, Helen, and their mother reverberate into the present, demonstrating their power to renew long buried pain. Smith especially shows adept grace at portraying deep filial love, while suggesting a sensitive and fragile mentality underneath.

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As the betrayed commandant, Houton is nothing less than profound and immaculately precise. Besotted by the freshness of his young wife, soaring jovially in his hour of glory, the revelation of his son’s cuckoldry brings him down like Icarus. His performance is perfectly complemented by Paul Tinsley’s warm and friendly family alcoholic, the Chaplin, Father Tom. Friel’s politics still manifest themselves in his subtle digs at these two pillars of Irish society, but they are humanely tempered by each and every character’s mournful wish for things to have happened differently.

Plus, even the most tragic families have their happy moments. Friel places these in shimmering contrast to the sorrowful ones and Strangeloop’s production follows that delicate silver thread like Gospel. Much like Eugene O’Neill’s work, Living Quarters is a paean to regret—only Friel’s lighter touch makes us realize how deeply regret is colored by time and memory. So whose memories are these, anyway–set down, note by note, in the book Sir carries around onstage? The question hangs suspended in the air like a cloud, like a moment of grief that won’t go away.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

Featuring: Kathryn Bartholomew, Shannon Bracken, Ross Compton, James Houton, Kelley Minneci, Martin Monahan, Jillian Rafa, Danni Smith and Paul Tinsley.

With scenic design by Glen Anderson, costumes and props by D.J. Reed, lighting by Leigh Barrett and sound by Jesus Contreras.

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