Review: The Alchemist (Nothing Special Productions)

     
     

17th-century farce delivers rich hoaxes, prosperous laughs

     
     

A scene from Nothing Special Production's 'The Alchemist', written by Ben Johnson and directed by Gregory Peters. Photo credit: Michael Laird

  
Nothing Special Productions presents
  
The Alchemist
  
Written by Ben Johnson
Adapted by Gregory Peters
Directed by Jack Dugan Carpenter
at Heartland Studio
, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through April 30  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Love? Riches? Fairytalk?  Whatever you’re in the market for, the alchemist is selling it for cash or velvet.  Nothing Special Productions presents The Alchemist.  A trio of swindlers conjure up dreamy elixirs for the villagers in need.  The scams are housed in a deserted mansion.  Dazzling promises lure the customers into the illusion. The people are foolish. The hoaxes are elaborate.  The payoff is pure gold.  The Alchemist guarantees riches and delivers it as prosperous laughs!

A scene from Nothing Special Production's 'The Alchemist', written by Ben Johnson and directed by Gregory Peters. Photo credit: Michael LairdLike an ongoing ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch, the buffoonery is riotous.  Jack Dugan Carpenter directs the huge cast through the mazed intrigue.  Carpenter paces the mega set-ups with a zippy revolving door feel.  At the core of the mayhem, the household rogues (Andrew Marchetti, Sean McGill, Melissa Imbogno) don numerous disguises and personas to work their magic.  It’s a burlesques-style slapstick! Continuous almost-being-found-out moments add to the hilarity.  In one scene, the threesome act out a fascinating elfin attack.  Their giggly enjoyment of the charade makes it feel improvised.  Marchetti and McGill are a dynamic duo.  Their synergy is perfected comedic timing. The talented ensemble add to the punch line with exaggerated spoofs.  In particular, two supporting actors stand out in stealing ways.  Matt Castellvi pontificates in grandiosity. His Laurence Olivier-like theatrics are hysterical.  A lanky Ken Miller escalates the joke with uttering one word, ‘sis-star.‘                      

Playwright Gregory Peters has updated Ben Johnson’s farce from the 1600’s.  Peters keeps the formal prose but weaves in a modern twist to the multiple entanglements.  By intermission, the number of grifts in progress is exhausting.  Not because the audience isn’t entertained but because they know ALL the scams must resolve before the show can end.  To adapt a play for the 21st first century, you need to adapt to an audience with a tweet-size attention span.  By limiting characters and eliminating scenes, this long con could be an excellent hustle!

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

A scene from Nothing Special Production's 'The Alchemist', written by Ben Johnson and directed by Gregory Peters. Photo credit: Michael Laird

The Alchemist continues through April 30th at the Boho Theatre in Rogers Park, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and, Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $15, and can be purchased online. The show’s running time is two hours and forty minutes, which includes an intermission.


Cast

Sean McGill (Face); Andrew Marchetti (Subtle); Melissa Imbrogno (Doll); Tony Kaehny (Dapper/Officer); Scott Sawa (Drugger); Chad Brown (Ananias); Matt Castellvi Mammon); Conor Burke (Surly); Patrick Byrnes (Tribulation); Ken Miller (Kastril); KaCee J. Hudson (Pliant); Joshua Razavi (Lovewit)

All photo by Michael Laird

  
  

Review: Apocalypso (Point of Contention Theatre)

Fractured tales of Armageddon

 

Apocalypso - Point of Contention Theatre

   
Point of Contention Theatre presents
   
Apocalyso
   
Written by William Donnelly
Directed by
Timothy Bambara
at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through October 2nd   |  tickets: $10-$15   |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

It must be getting close to another pivotal prediction time in the history of humankind. Apocalypso is rife with hints of New Age philosophy, 20-something aimlessness, and Generation X hitting the wall. Yes, 2012 looms and there is hair in the Cocoa Puffs. I would not quite call this play by William Donnelly a comedy as it is billed. There are some funny lines but this is more of a post-millennial musing of the Absurd.

The Point of Contention Theatre Company is known for breakneck dialogue, seamless direction, and quirky expressionistic takes on reality. I have to say that Apocalypso doesn’t quite nail the mark as well as past works like The Wonder (our review ★★★½) or Vanishing Points. (our review ★★★)

To be clear, there are some fine performances in this play, but the action and the narrative don’t flow that well. Apocalypso is set during the holiday season between Christmas and New Years’ Eve in small town America. We are introduced to a washed up school janitor named Gus, getting hammered with a newly divorced Boone. Mike Rice and Zach Livingston play the roles respectively. They make fine work of portraying guys on a cheap beer bender in the Upper Peninsula. Gus stokes his drinking buddy with misogynistic remarks and manly feats of dog care while stealing none too bright Boone’s wallet. Catherina Kusch as Sherry the bartender is a standout. Kusch plays the part of a woman who accepts anything rather than being alone with a weary dignity and touch of fierceness. In the midst of the holiday binge, a derelict-looking woman appears, speaks of a message, then disappears.

Boone (Livingston) wakes up in the apartment of his friend Walt, played by Jared Nell. Mr. Livingston has a fine grasp of the broad comedy strokes of the sofa-surfing Boone who – wearing only boots, underwear and a torn bathrobe – is a site. Calling Oscar Madison!  Mr. Nell’s Walt is the unfortunate consumer of the hirsute breakfast cereal. Walt appears to be a pushover and if it quacks like a duck….you know the rest.

Into this fracas is thrown the characters of Boone’s manipulative ex-wife Gin (Heather Brodie), her ever accommodating sister Cal (Megan E. Brown), and her secretive husband Dwight, played by Tony Kaehny. I was left wondering how this could be called a comedy at all after watching the painful scene between the sisters Gin and Cal.

Gin cannot let go of Boone and calls him at ridiculous hours to request random objects like CD’s or small appliances. The sight of Walt sitting in a car holding a circa-70’s blender should have elicited a bigger laugh in my opinion. The humor was tempered by the looming angst that hangs in every scene of Apocalypso.  I should want to care about these characters but I cannot. They are so self-involved and oblivious to the meaning behind all of their existential spouting that I was hoping for an Armageddon full of endless Calypso dancing. In fact, the only character that brought levity and honesty to the play was Dora, played by Jennifer Betancourt. She appears like a vision to each character, speaking her message with evangelical zeal. Betancourt is wonderful as the possibly delusional Dora. She claims to be from the Council of Fate and Determination, sent to tell the world of the end times. Dora is darkly funny, as we all have seen someone like her on the train or a downtown street corner preaching in a filthy parka. The humor is this: perhaps they are right. They grasp onto just enough kernels of truth to make one wonder ‘what if?’ and then shake it off, inferring insanity on the messenger.

We discover that Dora is the sister of Walt and she warns him about the end of the world and the Cocoa Puffs. Walt explains that Dora is off of her meds and thought that she was indeed the Lamb of God as a child. Dora manages to inject honesty into these character’s lives by calling things as they are in the midst of listening to their mewling half steps toward honesty.

These people do not treat each other well, and normally that works as a dramatic device to push the action forward. In Apocalypso, the human cruelty just stalls the flow of the play. The marriage of Cal and Dwight is played like a soap opera with a plot of philandering and regret. By the time Cal is awakened by Dora and calls Dwight on his BS the only humor is found in an expletive and a demand for tea.

I have to say that I found Donnelly’s dialogue and theme oddly reminiscent of the novel “Nine Kinds of Naked” by Tony Vigorito. There is talk of tornadoes, allusions to synchronicity, and being reborn naked after the Rapture. Perhaps it is homage; perhaps it is a coincidence that I will allow as synchronicity.

The production’s performances are quite good. It is a disappointment, then, that the direction seems to pace the scenes in a fractured manner. Sometimes comedy is serious and sometimes it calls for broad strokes to elicit a knowing chuckle. This is a bit too serious where the material could be mined for more self-recognition. There should be at least a conga line.

   
  
Rating: ★★½
  
    

 Apocalypso runs through October 2nd at the Boho Theatre @ Heartland Studio. Times are Thursday through Saturday at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Contact www.pointofcontention.org for more information and tickets.

     
     

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REVIEW: That Sordid Little Story (The New Colony Theatre)

Tall Tale Is Too Big

 

The New Colony presents That Sordid Little Story, from L to R - Thea Lux, Tara Sissom, Brandon Rutter, Chris Gingrich, Henry Riggs - photo by Anne Peterson

   
The New Colony Theatre presents
   
That Sordid Little Story
   
By Will Cavedo, Andrew Hobgood and Benno Nelson
Composed by
H. Riggs, C. Gingrich, T. Sissom and T. Lux
Directed by Andrew Hobgood
Music Directed by
Henry Riggs
at
Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western, Chicago (map)
through August 7th  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

The New Colony Theatre’s original play That Sordid Little Story is a huge production, both figuratively and literally. It fills the spacious Viaduct Theater with a two-tiered  stage that is flanked with jutting runways. There are two intermissions throughout the 2.5-hour long piece. Including musicians, the cast just jumps the dozen marker, which I know is no Cherrywood, but it’s The New Colony, That Sordid Little Story, from L to R - Patriac Coakley and Danny Taylorstill a sizeable amount of people for an off-Loop production.

The play also feels huge. It’s epic in its nature, with its protagonist, Billy Lomax (Patriac Coakley), journeying from Fayetteville Georgia across the South in search of a bluegrass band that may just hold the answers to the identity and whereabouts of his father. Along the way, Billy encounters a cast of colorful characters including a manipulative antique shop owner (Caitlin Chuckta) and her jealous brother (Wes Needham), a man of color who claims he’s half Cherokee (Anthony DiNicola), a stand-up comic (Sean Ellis), a couple of Latino day laborers (Aaron Alonso and Gary Tiedemann) and others.

The elusive bluegrass band serves as the soundtrack to Billy’s life. Each song inexplicably represents Billy’s current situation, or at least that’s how he reads into it. And so the band becomes the fuel that drives Billy, and for that matter the rest of the play, forward.

I should note that The New Colony takes a unique approach to creating a new production like this. The lines delineating actor, writer and director are blurred, with all cast members getting some say in the development of the play and its final treatment. With a company of about 30 members, this sounds like a situation where too many cooks could have spoiled the pot. And while the pot is not spoiled, it suffers from too many ingredients.

The New Colony, Sordid Little Story, from L to R - Aaron Alonso, Patriac Coakley and Sean Ellis - Photo by Anne Petersen The New Colony presents That Sordid Little Story, from L to R - Patriac Coakley and Jack McCabe.  Photo by Anne Petersen.
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The play practically bursts at the seams. There’s just so much in it. Issues of race, issues of family, issues of wealth and social class. In covering so much territory, very little is actually said.

In addition, there are too many characters that come in and out of Billy’s life for us to really care about them. Once Billy starts developing a connection with someone, he leaves or he is left. We as the audience catch on to this pattern quickly, which means mentally we know there’s little at stake with these friendships. Once that happens, we know we can check out, and thus the relationships that Billy is making just don’t have Sordid_11 much of an impact. In the end, you’re left just waiting to see how the whole thing wraps up.

Also, some of these scenes lag. There are conversations between talking heads that sound reminiscent of college-level discussion groups. Much of this dialogue could be cut, and we’d still get the point. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a 2.5-hour long play as long as your play needs to be 2.5 hours. With some obvious editing, That Sordid Little Story could shave off a good 30 minutes.

But let’s take a moment to focus on what this play does well, namely, the music. This is a four-star score, lyrically and melodically. Heart-wrenching at times, uplifting at others, the music overshadows the rest of the play with its spot-on descant harmonies and its band’s down-home-country affection.

Also, the acting is consistently solid. Standout performances include Sean Ellis as the drunk comic, Aaron Alonso as a non-English speaking immigrant and Caitlin Chuckta, who reminded me of comic actress Stephnie Weir.

That Sordid Little Story is anything but little. It’s a big piece – too big. With some self-editing, this could have been more than just a cool concept. But as it stands, I’d rather just listen to the soundtrack.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
  
   

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