REVIEW: The Invasion of Skokie (Chicago Dramatists)

Kibitzing with Gentiles and Nazis in Suburbia

 

(L-R) Bradford Lund, Mick Weber, and Michael Joseph Mitchell star in Steven Peterson’s world premiere production of The Invasion of Skokie, at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave., running 09/2-10/10/10, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Information about the show at www.chicagodramatists.org and 312-633-0630.  Photo by Jeff Pines.

   
Chicago Dramatists presents
   
The Invasion of Skokie
   
Written by Steven Peterson
Directed by
Richard Perez
at
Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map)
through October 10th  |  tickets:  $32  |   more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

It’s 1978. The preservation of the Jewish heritage is threatened by neo-Nazis and a Gentile boy. Chicago Dramatists presents the world premiere of The Invasion of Skokie by playwright Steven Peterson. The Nazis have won their U.S. Supreme Court case and plan to hold a march in Skokie, a Chicago suburb. Skokie has a large Jewish community that includes Holocaust survivors. On the eve of the supremacy parade, a Jewish family gathers for a typical Shabbat dinner. Or is it typical? Shabbat has been shifted to Saturday. The goy-next-door wants to marry into the Chosen People. Dad is negotiating an arms deal with terrorists. Mom made sun tea! An ordinary family debates traditional and liberal forces infiltrating the homogeneous community. The Invasion of Skokie is Fiddler on the Roof meets “Schlinder’s List” without the music or killing. For a religious culture surviving slavery, persecution and genocide, the Jewish people must now face their toughest opponent, love!

(L-R) Tracey Kaplan and Bradford Lund star in Steven Peterson’s world premiere production of The Invasion of Skokie, at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave., running 09/2-10/10/10, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Information about the show at www.chicagodramatists.org and 312-633-0630.  Photo by Jeff Pines.Playwright Steven Peterson and Director Richard Perez create a relatable homeland security threat. Dinner is overlapping conversations with generous helpings of tension and a side of ranch dressing diversion. In the lead, Mick Weber (Morry) drives the action with loud declarations and Nazi hate crime hate. Weber delivers a memorable patriarch performance from bull-headed fearless to vulnerable fearful. Weber’s anguish, in an final scene, is a haunting visual.  His match is Cindy Gold (Sylvia). As a Jewish stereotypical mother, Gold is funny pushing food for whatever the ailment or disagreement. Below the surface, Gold reaches gold with poignant musings over day lilies and marrying for life. Tracey Kaplan (Debbie) is the liberal, vegetarian, lawyer daughter. Kaplan and Weber spar with perfect father-daughter opposition. Although the issues are contemporary, the angst is deep rooted in their personal histories. Representing the ‘superior race’ notion, the blond and blue-eyed Bradford R. Lund (Charlie) is charming as a goy-in-love. Despite multiple reasons to flee, Lund is earnest in his willingness to stay. With Nazis in town and family feuding, comedy relief is a necessity. Arriving a week late for dinner, Michael Joseph Mitchell (Howie) is hilarious as the clueless dinner guest.

The Invasion of Skokie is a glimpse at a not-so-familiar but important moment in history. From the picturesque backyard patio (designer Grant Sabin) of suburbia, a Jewish family deals with menacing Nazis and Gentiles rallying against the tranquility.

An important moment in history – but is it still relevant? Today, when same sex marriages are at the forefront of controversy, is inter-religious marriages that big of a deal? This seems like a simplistic question that has an easy answer. The Invasion of Skokie magnificently represents multiple sides to the attacks on the Jewish heritage in 1978. Even now, I’m certain the debate continues. How to preserve 2010+ years of customs and history? Tradition, Tradition, tradition. Even as a shiksa, I get it!

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

(L-R) Mick Weber and Cindy Gold star in Steven Peterson’s world premiere production of The Invasion of Skokie, at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave.,  running 09/2-10/10/10, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Information about the show at www.chicagodramatists.org and 312-633-0630.  Photo by Jeff Pines.

Running Time: Two hours includes a ten minute intermission

Steven Peterson’s world premiere production of The Invasion of Skokie, at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave., runs through October 10th – Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Information about the show at www.chicagodramatists.org and 312-633-0630.  For information on parking, go to www.chicagodramatists.org/parking

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REVIEW: Hunting and Gathering (Theatre Seven)

Who knew the drudgery of moving could be so much fun?

 hunting & gathering

  
Theatre Seven presents
 
Hunting and Gathering
  
by Brooke Berman
directed by
Brian Golden
at
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through June 27th  tickets: $18-$24   |  more info

reviewed by Barry Eitel

Here in Chicago, the Memorial Day holiday also coincides with massive inter-city migration. Moving season is very much upon us. How appropriate, then, that the wonder-kids at Theatre Seven are putting on a show focused entirely on that frustrating activity. Hunting and Gathering is about moving, but also not about moving; hunting & gathering it’s really about relationships and finding yourself, among other things. Brooke Berman’s play dwells on listlessness, both geographically and emotionally. Theatre Seven’s production makes for a thoroughly entertaining 85 minutes, even if Berman’s script is too fluffy to make a fresh statement.

The meandering story (set in that other theatre city, New York) is driven by director Brian Golden and features an eager cast of four. Mostly, we journey alongside Ruth (Tracey Kaplan), who finds herself over 30 with most of her stuff stashed in a storage unit. Her struggle to find the perfect apartment is entangled with her history with brothers Astor (Todd Garcia) and Jesse (Michael Salinas). Astor is her best friend and a self-professed “couch-surfer”; however, like many opposite-sex best friends, he desires something more. Jesse, a college professor, had an adulterous affair with Ruth, which seems to have really screwed with her head. But by this moving season, he is divorced and dating a student, Bess (Paige Collins), a girl who has confidence way beyond her years.

Berman’s tale of urban nomads is fun and relatable, especially for anyone who can appreciate the value of a friend with a van. The play has a breezy feel to it, though. It seems like we are skipping along vast swaths of character information, and we don’t have enough to glue together for a complete picture. Relationships are under-nourished, especially the romance between Jesse and Ruth. By the end we’re led to believe that the affair did quite a number on Ruth’s psyche, but we aren’t sure why.

Kaplan digs into the heart of the Ruth, shaping her as both pugilist and irrational idealist. She can be adorable without being sticky sweet, such as in one scene where she stakes out a prospective apartment with techniques ripped from “Mission Impossible” and the “I Ching”. Salinas also connects deeply to his character, nailing down Jesse’s gawky charm. Garcia seems a tad uncomfortable on-stage, but he brings in most of the humor. Collins is fine, but her Bess exudes too much self-assurance. Just a bit more vulnerability, tucked away somewhere, would make her character a lot more likable.

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hunting & gathering hunting & gathering

Although not jaw-dropping, the design of Hunting and Gathering is clever and very fitting. Sarah Burnham’s set consists almost entirely of brown boxes and packing tape. With a few well-placed lights and props, these boxes become everything from refrigerators to café tables. As with past Theatre Seven shows, C.J. Arellano provides refreshing video wizardry, jolting multi-media pizzazz into the production, as well providing narrative guideposts (although they could be cued better).

With all of Theatre Seven’s energetic talent, it’s a letdown that a better play couldn’t be found. Berman’s stories read like memoirs or, more specifically, memoirs written by someone with a sense of humor. Although given a comedic finishing-coat, Ruth is plainly a doppelganger for Berman. Comedies can, and should, have significance, but Hunting and Gathering walks along beaten trails. It seems Berman wants to find dramatic riches in the smoldering coals of Ruth and Jesse’s failed relationship, but she doesn’t earn it. We aren’t given enough to hold onto—the audience is presented with a generalized wave of relationships. Literary importance aside, the play still functions delightfully as a zippy comedy geared towards the younger set. Considering the gallons of sweat, blood, and tears that go into moving season, it’s about time someone tapped into that dramatic well.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
 

hunting & gathering

       
       

REVIEW: Lucid (Diamante Productions)

The surreal world of “Lucid”

 Lucid cubicles

Diamante Productions presents:

Lucid

by Tony Fiorentino
directed by
Braden LuBell
thru February 27th –
Athenaeum Theatre (more info)

Review by K.D. Hopkins

The play Lucid is supposed to be about the mystery and excitement of what is called lucid dreaming. This is a somewhat controversial technique parlayed by New Age practitioners as a means to fulfill desires both conscious and subconscious. The playwright Tony Fiorentino has attempted to bring this to the audience in the form of a frustrated working drone named Peter Moore. He is a character descended from Roth and John Updike yet updated for our time and current American culture. Moore shares a cubicle and comic relief from the work day with Wally who seems to be an everyday guy but has a Mephistophelian bent with his fantasies and rants against the bosses Lucid 5of the world. Peter and Wally are graphic artists working in anonymity putting doodles and copy on items that end up in the dollar stores of Chicago or plastered on the windows of closed storefronts.

The play opens on the “L” as Wally is regaling Peter with how he stood up to the boss. The dialogue escalates until Wally claims to have taken an ax to the boss. He knows it is a lie but claims that it could happen in the world of lucid dreaming. Wally has taken the class for $300 and wants to share his newfound knowledge with Peter. That benevolence-really malevolence-sends Peter Moore into a descent where he is obsessed with non-reality. On the home front, Peter has what is the new American Dream set on its ear. His girlfriend is pregnant and has moved in taking up the extra bedroom where he once had an art studio. She is portrayed as obsessed with being a family and having Peter as a part of his child’s life. The minute Peter hits the door, he is faced with Becky doing Kegel exercises on the sofa and having ordered takeout to satisfy her eggplant craving. Their relationship is strained even though they each proclaim love and devotion. They all step through the looking glass when Peter gives his seat to a beautiful passenger on the “L”. Peter feels a connection and thinks that she is everything that Becky is not. She leaves her scarf on the train which becomes a fetish for Peter’s fantasies.

Peter is played by Daniel McEvilly. He fits the look of the character and does well especially in scenes with Becky, played by Laura Shatkus. Otherwise his performance came across as a bit too earnest. The artist has attention deficit rather than longings for freedom in his portrayal. This may be due to the writing more than the acting. There are elements of Surrealism and then Transcendentalism and then the Great American Discontent of post war America. They are all worthy subject matter and yet one cringes when Peter and his fantasy lover-Robin quote Thoreau. Mr. McEvilly does a fine job of projecting the rage of the working stiff who is meant for greater things. His scenes with Wally- played by Jake Szczepaniak are at times riveting. They have some great dialogue about art and real life. Sometimes McEvilly veered into preaching but he balanced well off of Mr. Szczepaniak.

The character of Wally is quite complex and well played by Mr. Szczepaniak. Wally is a world class BS artist that hides behind his bravado. He is a Mephistopheles leading Peter into a world that can solve all of his problems without any mention of the cost. When Peter goes too deep into the surreal world of lucid dreaming, Wally tries to take immoral liberties under the guise of being drunk and blacked out. This scene had the possibility of being smarmy but came across as menacing and unsettling.

Lucid _ 1 Lucid 3

Laura Shatkus’ portrayal of Becky is quite good. She has the task of taking on a role that’s written with a misogynistic bent. Pregnant women are usually portrayed as hysterical, needy, and insecure – always at the expense of a very put upon man. Peter goes so far as to count back the days when she got pregnant to claim that the child may not be his. He does not want any responsibility messing up his fantasy life. This is where the play veers dangerously close to melodrama, but Ms. Shatkus’ emotional range and subtlety keep things taut.

The character of Robin is played by Tracey Kaplan. She has a wonderful stage presence that also keeps the drama on course. She is equally charming as the woman on the “L” and the fantasy/muse of Peter’s dreams. The scenes between her and Mr. McEvilly are erotically charged and they play well off of each other. As mentioned before, some of the dialogue is a bit stilted and derivative but great chemistry between actors can be the saving grace. (Speaking of derivative-the homage to “Casablanca” made me chortle rather than feel any regret for the characters.) Robin always appears holding an apple as her symbol of temptation and the great fall of man. It was a bit too obvious and the actors had enough chemistry to not need a superfluous prop.

One would be remiss to not mention the brilliant scenic design by Robert Shoquist. The set is a Kafkaesque mix of cubicles representing the compartmentalization of Peter Moore’s life. It is accented expertly by props designer Lindsay Monahan. There is an assault of the hyper-colored junk that crowds our world including the sound of a Halloween skeleton singing “Just A Gigolo”. The office is a tight box as much as home is a suffocating trap lit beautifully in somber tones by Justin Wardell. The set is on a Lazy Susan mechanism that the actors move between scenes. The physical movement adds to the surrealist tone. One definition of Surrealism is ‘what is beneath the surface is what the mind’s eye sees’. We are taken beneath the surface of Peter Moore’s mind as well as the mechanisms of the drama and maybe the mind of the playwright. This was an enjoyable drama that will be of some interest to those who are into psychology and relationships in our times; that can be a surreal journey in real life.

 

Rating: ★★½

NOTE: This play contains adult subject matter and sexual situations. Parents are advised.

“Lucid” plays on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM at the Athenaeum Theatre 2936 Southport. Tickets are available through Ticket Master at 800-982-2787 or at the Athenaeum box office.

Lucid_poster

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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.