REVIEW: Under Construction (Jackalope Theatre)

   
  

Finding meaning from life’s little knick knacks

 
 

Under Construction - Jackalope Theatre Co. - L to R - Brenann Stacker, Christopher Meister, & Dan Conway

    
Jackalope Theatre presents their adaption of
   
Under Construction
   
Written by Charles Mee
Directed by
AJ Ware
at
The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark (map)
through Dec 19   |  tickets: $15   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Step onto the set of Under Construction and you immediately suppose that you’re about to witness the typical family melodrama.  Audience seating is minimal; right onstage with the players in Jackalope Theatre’s intensely intimate adaptation of Charles Mee’s original play (adapted by Andrew Burden Swanson, Melanie Berner and AJ Ware, who also directs).  But the usual Thanksgiving gathering serves up a platter of multicolored feathers, glasses stuffed with random textiles to suggest different kinds of beverages, dinner rolls cut out of memory foam and candles on the table crafted from colored pencils.  This is not a “real” Thanksgiving but a creation, a re-creation based on fallible and impressionistic memory. 

Under Construction - Jackalope Theatre Co. - L to R - Dan Conway, & Brenann StackerBoth the memory and its recreation belong to Abbey (Brenann Stacker), an artist who creates sculptures from found objects, the detritus of knick-knacks that survive us.  What Abbey tries to reconstruct is her relationship with her father Sam (Christopher Meister), a prickly man at war with himself in his staid role as family breadwinner and working class Joe.  Continuously frustrated, he cannot help taking it out on his family.  Not a model dad, Sam eventually leaves his family, which also includes son Jack (Dan Conway) and wife Emily (Mary Jo Bolduc).

Reconciling her feelings after her father passes away becomes the driving force in Abbey’s work, as well as her livestream conversations with her brother Jack, who wonders himself just how much he is turning into his father.  Under Construction jumps around between present events and Abbey’s continually revised and reconstructed past.  This structural element to the play has its pay-offs, but also sacrifices continuity, which probably is the point.  Uncertainty purposefully suffuses past events.  But the play’s transitional demands make the actors start cold with some scenes and that sort of emotional scramble makes its demands on the audience as well.  Nevertheless, both Stacker and Meister expertly render some very hard-boiled truths—she, about the barren depths of an artist’s creative malaise and he, about the life-draining impact of a man’s labor exploited under capitalism.

Jackalope’s production also does an excellent job of taking Mee’s pastiche of 1950’s social etiquette books and father/daughter scenes from “To Kill a Mockingbird” and replaying them with totally transformed impact between the characters themselves.  Family may indeed be a replay of scripts handed to us from a variety of comforting and familiar sources, but that replay’s actual outcome might not comfort or reassure like some safe and predictable “Father Knows Best” scenario.  Sam does not know what to make of his life and Abbey has a hard time knowing what to make of their relationship once he is gone.

Under Construction - Jackalope Theatre Co. - L to R - Christopher Meister, Dan Conway, & Brenann StackerIn the context of uncertainty, forgiveness becomes a creational act.  Gently conveying this well are the actors cast as the grandparents, Sophia (Margaret Kustermann) and Henry (Jim Schutter).  Even as bit parts, they provide the foundation for this family. 

If there is a weak point to Under Construction, it’s the role of Emily, who for the most part gets pigeonholed as a long-suffering wife with little room for nuance or variation.  Here is another character that needs some process of forgiveness.  If she has any, it goes mysteriously and failingly silent.  Abbey, at least, has her work—an art form wherein she can take the scraps of what’s left of a life or a relationship and make it into something with meaning.  It’s what we do with the detritus left behind, after all, that truly matters.    

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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Review: Silent Theatre’s “Carnival Nocturne”

Quirky, Murky, Malarkey

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The Silent Theatre Company presents

Carnival Nocturne

At DCA Storefront Theatre
Conceived and written by Gillian Hastings
Directed by Tonika Todorova
Thru December 20th (ticket info)

review by Katy Walsh

SilentTheatre_CarnivalNocturne_6 Words cannot express… because there are none. The Silent Theatre Company presents Carnival Nocturne, the story of a traveling circus plagued by a curse. Carnival Nocturne is the last of the three theatre company 2009 series produced by Chicago’s Department of Culture Affairs (DCA) Theatre and performed at the Store Front Theatre. The play is performed with the music accompaniment of a live band and minimal vocal narration. It’s a creative and challenging genre that is reliant on body language to convey the tale. There are no words to answer the questions that Carnival Nocturne provokes.

Gillian Hastings has conceived and written the Carnival Nocturne. One gets that there is indeed a curse, but its origin is unclear. A woman is killed in the very beginning by her husband. Why? He loves her, right? Did someone switch knives? Who? And why? Did the girl run away to join the circus? Or did she grow up with the circus? Does the Ring Master fall in love with her? What about his wife? Wait, she’s dead – or is she? Is that guy a dog? Or does he just think he’s a dog? Is this the end of the show? Though the plot is disjointed, do you go to the carnival for the story?

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Nonetheless, Carnival Nocturne has many whimsical and colorful moments. Costumes designed by Barb Staples are an explosion of vibrant imagination. It’s old school carnie with an underworld twist. Lindsey Marks and Taylor Bibat play Siamese twins. Mostly their synchronicity is flawless yet eerie. During an aerial bit, they do get out of sync and the clunkiness breaks the spell. The barker (played by Marvin Eduardo Quijada) is pure animated entertainment from his surprise entrance to his curtain pulling ending. The cat act, Flim and Flam, (played by Dean Evans and Molly Plunk) is playful antics; Evans is exceptionally expressive. Yohanna (played by SilentTheatre_CarnivalNocturne_11Rachel Rizzuto) delivers a vulnerable performance as the girl who runs away to join the circus (…or grew up with the circus?).

Clever and imaginative are the perfect words to describe this Silent Theatre Company experience. I admit that I’d probably need a to see this a few more times to completely understand the story-line. Unfortunately the program doesn’t help decipher the components of Carnival Nocturne. Without dialogue or program pictures, we’re left to guess: Who is who? What is what? What’s going on? Talk to me, Silent Theatre Company!

 

Rating: ★★

 

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