Review: Three Days of Rain (Backstage Theatre)

        
        

Another memorable production from Backstage

  
  

Rebekah Ward-Hays & John Henry Roberts - Three Days of Rain

   
Backstage Theatre Company presents
       

Three Days of Rain

  
  
Written by Richard Greenberg
Directed by Matthew Reeder
at the
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western (map)
through June 25  |  tickets: $10-$22  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

We are often fascinated by the story of who our parents were before they had children since it is essentially how we came to exist. It helps us understand the lives of the most influential people in your life, and it guides us in our own quest for love and self definition. This idea played a large role in Backstage Theatre Company’s Memory, their impressive first play of their season. Other times these stories, as is the case in Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain (known to many theatergoers as the play Julia Roberts flatly debuted in on Broadway), can be a great mystery to obsess upon for years. The overriding mystery is what binds six fascinating characters together played by three actors. Artistic Director Matthew Reeder’s direction in this Backstage production is strikingly human, intimate and traipses through these characters’ lives like a lone jazz trumpet traveling through time accompanied by well-suited recordings of Miles Davis doing the real thing.

Rebekah Ward-Hays & Tony BozzutoIn present day downtown Manhattan (or maybe more so the mid-90’s if you really do the math on years referenced) we meet Walker (John Henry Roberts) in a sparse spacious apartment. He is intellectual, searching and a narcissist. After disappearing in Italy his family had thought him dead. More specifically, his sister Nan (Rebekah Ward-Hays) and his old friend Pip (Tony Bozzuto) thought so. Upon finding his recently deceased father’s journal, Walker attempts to decipher the cryptic seemingly commonplace entries. Walker believes that his parents “married because by 1960 they had reached a certain age and they were the last ones left in the room.” Nan struggles with Walker’s return and his obsession with their father’s journal. Pip, a soap-opera star, has history with Nan, and Walker was – or still is – in love with him, causing interesting tension when any combination of the three of them is on stage.

Walker and Nan’s father Ned (also played by Roberts) was a great architect, or at least built one impressive house. Pip is the son of their father’s partner, Theo. In the second act Bozzuto, Roberts and Ward-Hays all take on the roles of their parents in the 1960’s. Greenberg’s writing is smart in how it takes certain words or phrases you hear in the first act and sprinkles them in the second act, showing you the roots of these ultimately poetic characters in linguistic parallels. We bear witness to all that Walker, Nan and Pip could not possibly know even if the stories were retold or handed down. They would have changed as all stories do through the course of history. Nevertheless, a few small words which Ned (Walker and Nan’s father) writes down carries all the weight in the world for each character involved in this play. Even if the meaning of those words died with Ned, they still have impacted the lives of these people profoundly whether the truth is known or not.

The performances of these six difficult characters to play are worthy. The hurdle is portraying two different characters that are clueless to what the other knows and yet finding the connection between them. John Henry Roberts was stiff at times on opening night and hit an occasional false note as Walker at first, but he eventually relaxed into the role and became fascinating during the ritual that ends the act. As Walker’s father, Ned, he brings a very different character to the stage that is vivacious and electric to watch. Ward-Hays is magnificent in her balance of anger and love as Nan, and then in her dreamier and more sexually charged performance as Lina. Bozzuto is dynamic displaying an exciting capability for detailed physical choices.

          
Tony Bozzuto & John Henry Roberts in Backstage Theatre's "Three Days of Rain" by Richard Greenberg. (photo: Hays)  Rebekah Ward-Hays & Tony Bozzuto in Backstage Theatre's "Three Days of Rain" by Richard Greenberg. (photo: Hays)
Tony Bozzuto in Backstage Theatre's "Three Days of Rain" by Richard Greenberg. (photo: Hays) Rebekah Ward-Hays & John Henry Roberts

Reeder makes a brilliant choice opening the second act by allowing the characters of Theo and Ned to spend the first couple minutes transforming the space in front of our eyes, bringing life into the abandoned apartment and turning it into an invigorating Manhattan architectural workspace of the 1960’s. It’s the same apartment as in the first act, but the makeover of the room is akin to time travel. Brandon Wardell’s set fills the Viaduct space perfectly, and his lighting on the windows does wonders to create the ambiance of the physical and emotional setting.

Greenberg’s non-linear storytelling is thought-provoking as only we, the audience, know the true gravitas of the words, “Three days of rain,” which Ned enters into his journal. However, perhaps this is the nature of history; it can never be retold exactly, nor needs to be. Walker and Nan come to their own necessary closure with their parents’ ambiguous history, and their father took his memories to the grave. What’s clear is that Backstage Theatre Company continues to excel in creating memories for theatergoers that are definitely unforgettable.

    
  
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Rebekah Ward-Hays & John Henry Roberts

Performances for Three Days of Rain run every Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and every Sunday at 3 p.m., from May 20th through June 25th. No performance June 16th, added performance Monday, June 6th at 7:00 p.m. General admission tickets are $25, senior tickets are $22, and student tickets (with a valid ID) are $10. Group rates are available. Tickets are available through the Viaduct Theatre by phone, (773) 296-6024. For more information about BackStage Theatre Company and Three Days of Rain, visit www.backstagetheatrecompany.org.

     

     
     

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Review: War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short (Viaduct)

 
 

A scintillating evening of dance and theater

  
  

Prologue to "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

   
Jim Manganello presents
   
   
War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short
       
Adapted and Directed by Jim Manganello
Choreography by Amanda Timm and Sarah Fornace
at Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave. (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is a collaboration of theater and dance companies. They are some of the best that Chicago and London across the pond offers. The result is a funny, relevant, and brilliant evening of theater. The artists and the support team hail from Redmoon, The London International School of the Performing Arts, Starkid, and Collaboraction.

Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta fight in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloTolstoy’s novel of the aristocracy, patriotism, and Napoleonic aggression rings frighteningly true of today’s society and the conflicts the world over.

This adaptation strips the novel down to a stark set with meager props. The set is colored in by the actors and dancers in a frenzy of stage combat, graceful dance, satirical renderings of the aristocracy, and stark reminders of the cost of war.

The players in this piece are exceptional together and individually. The timing for satire is more crucial that what is needed for traditional comedy. The segment of Napoleon being bathed, fed, and dressed while in the midst of a tirade is visual poetry. Napoleon, played by Marc Frost, is rolled in on a table stuffed with his limbs out in a zinc washtub. His head is adorned with a gilded laurel crown. From there is a brilliant pantomime of scrub, rinse and powdering the mini tyrant. Frost’s nudity is covered by a perfectly timed placement of towels and bath accoutrement.

Lauren Lopez does a funny turn as an aristocratic lady mocking the advances of a suitor. The baseness and ludicrous mores of the upper crust in Napoleon’s reign is brought to glaring light. She seduces a guest with the prospect of canapés and biscuits. Ms. Lopez is one of the founding members of Starkid Theater Company and true to her bio, she prances about the stage in a sylph-like manner that is seductive and endearing.

     
 Lauren Lopez, Blake Russell dance in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello
"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

Blake Russell plays a patriotic young man off to war. This segment is a poignant sketch of how a family is affected by war. The youth are drawn in by an atavistic need for battle-the territorial imperative. The result is the same no matter the era when war takes its toll. Russell imparts the disillusionment and sadness of a generation whether it be 1812 or modern times.

Dustin Valenta of Redmoon among others has an impish appeal as the prologue narrator and others in the production. There is a mischievous twinkle in eye that bodes gleeful mayhem to come.

"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloRounding out this cast is Luke Couzens as the Russian Captain and others. He stands out in the opening combat segment after he is stabbed by Dustin Valenta‘s character. The action represents 1812 but his screaming, "You fucking stabbed me! No I’m not alright!" brings the action to present day. He is touching and funny with a young man lost appeal.

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is minimalist with the props, but when they are used it is for maximum impact. A hidden fan produces a funny moment and the gauze/linen draping is a wonderful representation for the frozen tundra of Russia. Look out for the table in all of its incarnations and you may reconsider your relationship with pasta after one segment.

In all, I hope that there will be more collaboration of these talented actors, dancers, puppeteers, and acrobats. They work well together and their respect for the individual craft as well as the collective has produced something wonderful. This is a short run so get out this weekend to see War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short. The Viaduct is a great space. It is fun and artistic without airs of pretentiousness. It is literally located under a viaduct at 3111 N. Western Ave. There is a laid back lobby bar where you can chill before the performance. Go see it!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

The Atom Bomb scene in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

 

     
     

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Review: Maybe in a Moment (Thresholds Theatre Arts)

  
  

Simple poetry makes production profound and relevant

  
  

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Thresholds Theatre Arts Program presents
   
Maybe in a Moment
  
Directed by Marti Szalai-Raymond
at Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western (map)
through May 8  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Every year Thresholds Theatre Art Program brings together Chicago theater professionals and individuals with mental illness to craft an original show that explores mental illness’s impact through song, poetry, movement, monologues and story theatre. Members of Thresholds’ programs enjoy a therapeutic and artistic outlet for their stories, to express what it is like to suffer mental illness and their audiences receive an education as to its tangible realities. However, under Artistic Director Marti Szalai-Raymond’s direction and development, Thresholds’ latest show, Maybe In a Moment doesn’t just have educational benefit for general audiences. It’s actually a substantial and poetic piece, quite reminiscent of 60’s experimental theater. The cast pulls together with teamwork and grace, putting across simply profound and revelatory moments.

If anything, Maybe In a Moment is about surviving and experiencing each day, no matter what the day might bring. Songs and poems tap into basic needs—to love and be loved, to feel connected to community, to be accepted and appreciated, to live without shame, secrecy, fear or stigma. Though their difficulties may be unique to their own individual lives, Thresholds members still serve up a heaping helping of the human condition. The production’s story theatre style allows most to have their moment to express an element essential to their personalities. “If you have a gift and you don’t share it, it’s no good,” declares one man. “I’d like to be remembered as somebody smarter than I am,” says another. “Today, I saw a new doctor,” says one man, expanding on his fear of the treatment he may face from a new and unfamiliar healthcare provider.

“We began development about 7 months ago,” says Szalai-Raymond, “Lots of writing exercises for people for whom writing is not their area of expertise—generating lots of story theater pieces.” Among them, we hear about one woman’s nervous breakdown over a lost chance at love; another woman’s journey of survival in a relationship with a Mafia thug; the sisterly relationship formed between two women rooming together with significantly different mental illnesses. Song and movement interspersed with each personal tale creates a convincing collage of experience, from strong a capella renditions of “I Did It My Way” to pop favorites, like “Stand By Me” and “There’s Always Gonna Be Another Mountain.”

“This year was our first time trying to bridge the hearing and deaf communities,” cites Szalai-Raymond. “Not all of our members are going to learn to sign in time for our opening. Some even have physical challenges for signing. So, it’s taken a lot of patience. Movement was a place where we could meet in the middle. Plus, this is our first time playing in Viaduct Theatre’s space. We didn’t even rehearse here before opening.” That’s not something that one could tell from the performance. If anything, the cast’s ensemble cohesiveness, in spite of an occasional mistake here and there, belies a family or community feeling of gentle respect.

Once Threshold’s production wraps up at Viaduct, it tours schools, churches, community centers, hospitals, national conferences and the like. Theirs is a message of hope, kindness and encouragement to heal any heart, challenged with mental illness or not.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Maybe in a Moment continues through May 8th at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave., with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7pm and Sundays at 3pm. (fyi: the Friday, April 29th show will be performed at the Woodstock Opera House). Tickets are $20, and can be purchased by phone (773-296-6024) or online through ticketweb

     
     

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Review: The Voodoo Chalk Circle (State Theatre Chicago)

  
  

Brecht adaptation successfully unearths New Orleans of old

  
  

Sarah Addison Ely, Ellenkate Finley, Alexis Randolph, Genevieve Lally-Knuth in a scene from State Theatre's 'Voodoo Chalk Circle'

   
State Theatre presents
  
The Voodoo Chalk Circle
  
Adapted by Chelsea Marcantel
Based on the original play by
Bertolt Brecht
Music by
Chris Gingrich and Henry Riggs
Directed by Tim Speicher
at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western (map)
through May 8  |  tickets: $10-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

There was a unique and fascinating collaboration that occurred between two small theatre companies this year. The “Full Circle Festival” may have unfortunately fallen off the radar for many theatergoers; however, it began with Theatre Mir’s powerfully resonant production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle (our review ★★★★). Now, the State Theatre has given us the wonderful opportunity to revisit this story in a new light with Chelsea Marcantel’s New Orleans set adaptation, The Voodoo Chalk Circle. Marcantel has been an up and coming playwright in Chicago for a few years, and this may be her most ambitious and successful endeavor to date. Tim Speicher’s intelligent and creative direction creates a captivating visual and aural experience that is heavy on theatrics and light on political Brechtian alienation. After experiencing Theatre Mir’s substantial production, this abridged retelling is a fresh and exciting compliment.

A scene from State Theatre's 'Voodoo Chalk Circle'Before the play begins, the multi-talented Nick Demeris warms up the crowd as a street performer, similar to those that frequented the tourist areas of pre-Katrina New Orleans. We are then catapulted into a pre-hurricane New Orleans by our narrator, Josh Hambrock. He introduces us to Grusha (Ellenkate Finley) on her 21st birthday, which is being celebrated at a downtown nightclub on the eve of an encroaching hurricane. As opposed to Brecht’s Grusha, who is the servant to a governor, Marcantel perfectly casts her as the servant to the mayor of New Orleans’ wife, Nathalie (a strong performance by Jodi Kingsley). Playing her opposite is Simon (Caleb Probst), who proposes marriage on that evening. After her night out, Grusha returns to the boarded up mansion where she resumes her duties as the surrogate mother to the infant son, Michael, of the neglectful mayor’s wife.

And then there’s the storm. Speicher and music director, Chris Gingrich create an ingenious cacophony of sound, utilizing the evocative Sound Chorus. Combining crashing sheets of metal, jugs of water, wind vocalizations and drumming, the sense of calamity is created magnificently. During the post-storm, Grusha, along with Nathalie’s forgotten baby, flee for the suburbs of the North Shore seeking refuge with her sister. Instead, she finds what is essentially a Voodoo commune living in the ruins. They have rendered rebuilding pointless and have embraced the ways of “the old.” Their leader is the morally ambiguous Baron Samedi (played by Mark Viafranco with remarkable physicality and dexterity). Her sister does finally appear, now reborn into this ancient religion as Erzulie (Cara Olansky). Olansky is compelling in her performance as a woman who has lost everything and has turned, as often people do after traumatic events, to religion. However, Olansky gives us glimpses of loss and grief behind the stone face of a religion that celebrates the eternal, rather than mourns death.

Although engaged to Simon, Grusha agrees to be wed for security reasons to Zeke (Zachary Kropp), a man who appears to have been crippled from a roof collapse. Kropp gives a somewhat unconvincing performance, and the true motives of the character remains vague. However, for utilitarian purposes, the character serves the plot well during Simon’s discovery of Grusha living a life he had not expected to find her in. The final chalk circle scene remains faithful to Brecht’s original text, yet is modified just enough to allow for the ending to carry a certain element of surprise.

While there is strong acting and talent throughout, the casting could benefit from more diversity in ethnicity and age to truly provide the authenticity of New Orleans. Overall, the cast plays slightly on the younger side for a play focused on old traditions. Nevertheless, formidable performances are given by Finley and Probst. Hambrock is engaging as part Our Town Stage Manager: floating in and out of the world of the play, omnipresent, setting scenes and introducing characters—and part Orson Welles in The Third Man: revealing his true function as the judge of morality only in the final act, playing Brecht’s “walking contradiction”, Azdak.

Marcantel’s script is entirely worthy of this fine production. She has found an appropriate contemporary setting for this story and carries the action briskly with high stakes. She perhaps misses an opportunity to connect to Brecht’s original play further due to the fact that she treats the hurricane solely as a natural disaster without examining the political catastrophe in the city more in depth. Whereas Brecht’s war of rebellion was more concerned with the manmade cycle of oppression and corruption, the hurricane in Marcantel’s adaptation is rather “Oz-ian”, a dramatic tool in the form of a catastrophe turning the world upside down. I was also left wondering why Marcantel goes to great authentic lengths in setting this story richly in New Orleans, yet never quite goes as far as referencing New Orleans, Katrina or any other specifics directly. It’s possible some immediacy was lost with this decision. Her dialogue is best in the earlier sections of the story discussing class struggles and Voodoo practices, but falls slightly flat in the oversentimentality of the Grusha and Simon love story.

In the end, it is Speicher’s concept, the emergence of the past from the ruins of modernity, which makes this play a must-see. He truly understands the ritualistic nature of Marcantel’s setting. Gingrich and Riggs’ music is a driving force of nature throughout the play. The Sound Chorus serves as the spiritual voice and heartbeat of old traditions made anew. Shaun Renfro’s set design condenses the action to an intimate section of the barn-like Viaduct space by the use of hundreds of cardboard boxes, reminiscent of essentials that were airdropped to Katrina survivors. In addition, Renfro creates an ingenious playground of set pieces that allow for interaction with the actors. Taylor Bibat’s shadow puppetry represents the concept perfectly by providing an ancient theatrical tradition as opposed to video projections.

The final monologue Marcantel writes for Azdak is poetic and resonant stating, “It’s hard to see how everything comes together, until everything falls apart.” While this production soars, I am left hoping that Marcantel may continue to develop the script into a full adaptation finding more parallels and urgency in the injustice that occurs in the aftermath of natural disasters. It is of high compliment that I wished to spend even more time with these characters and in this world Marcantel has transplanted them to—nevertheless, it is immediately an important piece of theatre this season that should not be overlooked.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

The Voodoo Chalk Circle presented by State Theatre Chicago

The Voodoo Chalk Circle continues at The Viaduct through May 8th, with performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:15pm and Sundays at 3pm. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $10-$20, and can either be purchased online or by calling (773) 296-6024.  For more information, visit www.statetheatrechicago.com.

The Voodoo Chalk Circle is part of the “Full Circle Festival” in collaboration with Theatre Mir to provide audiences with two uniquely different versions of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The State Theatre closes the festival following Theatre Mir’s production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle directed by Jonathan Berry.

 

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REVIEW: Pancake Breakfast (The New Colony)

      
     

Family dysfunction stacked high and covered with syrup

     
     

Pancake Breakfast - The New Colony - Viaduct Theatre

   
The New Colony presents
   
Pancake Breakfast
   
Written by Tara Sissom
Directed by
Sean Kelly
at
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western (map)
through Dec 19  |  tickets: $10-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Independence Day is an annual celebration of liberation. For Beatrice, this year is D-Day for the release of a captive, her brother. The New Colony presents the world premiere of Pancake Breakfast. Beatrice resurrects the 4th of July family tradition. Her plan is to get the estranged family together to intervene in her mother’s unhealthy relationship with her brother. But before the clan can instigate the interference, they need to re-enact the holiday family rituals from pancake breakfast to fireworks. ‘Going home again’ is a craving never quite satisfied. Do pancakes ever taste as good as the childhood memory of them? Pancake Breakfast is family dysfunction stacked high and served with fruits and nuts.

Pancake Breakfast - The New Colony - Viaduct Theatre 4Playwright Tara Sissom devised the Pancake Breakfast script in collaboration with the actors. Sissom laid out the premise and the ensemble developed individual characters. The result is an IHOP menu of tasty options that don’t quite go together for one well-balanced meal. Some of the characters are a bounty of flavor. Arlene Malinowski (Lillian) is a delicious loud-mouthed, mean-spirited, mother flapjack. Evan Linder (Randy) is a delectably hilarious, Asperger’s son-of-a-bitch. Jack McCabe (Arlie) stirs the pot for laughs as an eccentric nut. Megan Johns (Darcy)smokes the pot as the amusing, carefree 2nd wife. It’s these tangy portrayals that overshadow the other milder ingredients. What are the other tastes? Gary Tiedemann is definitely sweet, but how does he blend with his bitter partner, Andrew Hobgood (Bobby)? And Steve Ratcliff (Bud) seems a little bland for marrying zesty… both times.

The script can be confusing. In the first scenes, it’s unclear who Eleanor (Susan Veronika Adler) is. Adler brings some spice but is more seasoned for the grandmother’s role than the grown-up version of a youthful single parent. Thea Lux (Beatrice) goes to a lot of trouble to serve pancakes but seems more like a waffle eater. Lux is a quandary. What does she want? And where is she going? Her last line at the show’s end adds to the mystery.

Director Sean Kelly stages the show on a long linear stage. It’s an interesting floor plan representing a variety of rooms (scenic design by Nick Sieben). But in the cavernous Viaduct Theatre, this layout muffles some pertinent dialogue because of the obstructive angles. Sometimes the audio barrier is actually another actor standing directly in front of the speaker. From the southeast corner, a tub conversation is muffled between the submerged and the percher.

Pancake Breakfast - The New Colony - Viaduct Theatre 3

Simultaneous staged activity occurs for a horizontal visual feast, tasty or otherwise. In an initial scene, the march to the breakfast table is a light-hearted patriotic salute. Often when family gets together for a holiday, there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Relative cooking can get confusing. No need to start from scratch, Playwright Sissom just needs to clarify the recipe’s direction and whisk the lumps until smooth. Pancake Breakfast is a Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity combo platter in the making. Order up!

  
   
Rating: ★★½
   
  

Pancake Breakfast - The New Colony - Viaduct Theatre 2

Pancake Breakfast continues thru December 19th, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm.  Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission.

   
  

 

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REVIEW: Course of Empire (Breakbone Dance Company)

  
  

A provacative and compelling empire

     
     

breakbonedance-dancecastexcavation-carlwiedemann3

   
Breakbone Dance Company presents
   
Course of Empire
  
Conceived and Directed by Atalee Judy
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western (map)
through Nov 20  |  tickets: $16  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Breakbone Dance Company claims to have been breaking the rules of contemporary dance for their thirteen years as a group. Breaking the rules is a subjective claim in these days of what I call artistic anarchy. The performance/concert Course of Empire is a thoroughly skilled and mellifluous take on society seen through architectural exploration but I’m not sure that it breaks the rules. The concert is a new work a year in the making, created under the direction of Breakbone Artistic Director Atalee Judy.

Breakbone Dance Company - aviatrixCourse of Empire combines industrial techno music and film projection with choreography. The Viaduct Theatre space is the perfect venue for such a production. It is situated literally under a viaduct on Western Avenue along a seemingly desolate street. The interior is sparse and painted black with chains, cinder blocks and scattered metal props. It has a very Teutonic feel that is amplified when the dancers appear. They are dressed like aviatrix explorers with goggles, close fitting helmets, and leather rucksacks. This production features Atalee Judy, Anita Fillmore, and Mindy Meyers. Founding member Suzanne Dado is featured in a video portion of the performance filmed by Carl Weidemann. The audience is led through four stages of building and destruction called excavations. That is the perfect description with the cinder blocks rolling and the dancers taking on the personas of building materials as well as the architect.

Judy, Fillmore, and Meyers expertly jumble their bodies through the growing pains of mankind’s early attempts at putting down foundations and building. They put miniature models of structures from history downstage as a mini focal point. The Roman Coliseum ruins, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Taj Mahal, and an incomplete structure are given as visual motif. “Course of Empire is broken into five parts: On Building, Living Architecture, Manifest, Inevitable Destruction, and Rebuilding the Interior.

The descriptions of these parts is what left me wondering what rules were being broken. The choreography is exquisite. Atalee Judy has produced a lyrical blend of modern, jazz, hip-hop, and a surprising touch of spiritual gospel moves set against visuals of destruction. This is a beautiful commentary on society, and maybe the company’s endgame veers towards breaking the rules by documenting architectural destruction through dance. Carl Weidemann’s video accompaniment is a loving look at what was built in the last century that now lay in ruins. An abandoned train station and church in Gary, Indiana is especially poignant knowing how the city still lays abandoned, and a dead city by some media outlets. Course of Empire was inspired by paintings of the same name by Thomas Cole. The paintings show the course of cultural development from an agrarian state to industry and depletion. I found the subject matter especially wrenching because of my own love of 19th and 20th century architecture. (I find modern structures to be cold and void of feeling; new shiny things have no soul and eventually humankind will grow bored and destroy them for the next new thing. Thomas’s “Course of Empire” eloquently shows human nature and how structures have souls seen in the eye of the beholder.

 

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Breakbone DanceCo Breakbone Dance Company 08

I was fortunate to attend on the night when Breakbone celebrated its’ 13th anniversary season. There was a guerilla film shown if Atalee Judy dancing through an abandoned rail tunnel in Rochester, New York. It’s a definite moment of rule breaking in film. No permits were granted for the film short that was done with Steadicam on the fly. Ms. Judy claims that such films are the direction that Breakbone is heading. This may be a means of wider recognition, but it would be a shame to not see this company live and in the flesh. Dance is a tangible discipline where one can hear the breath and see the sweat of exertion. Breakbone’s passion is inspiring, and I hope that they don’t go totally viral (ala YouTube) or center just on their video work. Keep it live – that in itself will be breaking the rules. It’s the same as paying homage to a beautiful structure or preserving a treasured building.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

 

More Breakbone videos here.

     
     

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REVIEW: Memory (Backstage Theatre Company)

  
  

Captivating ensemble fills space with raw energy

 

 

Memory - Backstage Theatre 4 - photo by Heath Hays

   
Backstage Theatre presents
   
Memory
   
Written by Jonathan Lichtenstein
Directed by
Matthew Reeder
at
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western (map)
through December 18  |  tickets: $22-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

War is hell. Especially when you’re talking about the Holocaust, an event so horrific in nature that it still rocks people to this day. Or, more recently, this hostility and violence has manifested itself in the Israeli and Palestinian War. Views on these two wars are brought together in the Backstage Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere of Memory by Jonathan Lichtenstein.

Memory - Backstage Theatre 5 - photo by Heath HaysThe set, designed by Heath Hays, starts out as an essentially bare stage: an open space, with some propped-up backward-facing set wall pieces, a piano and a couch. This arrangement leaves plenty of room for the actor’s to move around the space, both physically and emotionally. As the show progresses, the wall pieces are turned around one-by-one to reveal large-scale black-and-white photos that create background scenery that adds to the story.

Memory – featuring Brenda Barrie, Tony Bozzuto, Samuel Buti, Bilal Dardai, Josh Hambrock, Shane Michael Murphy and Patrick De Nicola is a show about actors rehearsing a play that turns into an actual performance of the play. The show opens on a rehearsal, with the actors all playing themselves, entering and preparing themselves for work. There is no official start to the show in the traditional sense where lights dim and actors take their places. Instead the action just begins, which is slightly confusing, causing one to question what exactly we are watching. Once it becomes clear that the show has in fact started, the action is (intentionally) a bit stressed and scattered. The actors begin to rehearse a scene with their director (Josh Hambrock), moving the scene forward and then stopping it, causing a disconnect between the actors and their characters.

Eventually the rehearsal format falls away and a steady performance begins. Each actor morphs from performing a role and reciting lines to becoming the character and fully bringing them to life.

The show is split between two stories: the story of Eva and the story of Bashar.

Eva’s (Brenda Barrie) story revolves around her long-lost grandson (Shane Michael Murphy) questioning the validity of a long-standing family legend about the Holocaust. It’s told through flashbacks of Eva’s life with her friends Felix (Patrick De Nicola) and Aron (Tony Bozzuto), who later becomes her husband. Bashar’s (Bilal Dardai) story tells of his experience as a Palastinian fighting against an Israeli soldier (Samuel Buti).

Memory proves to be a true ensemble piece, with each actor working in sync with one another. It’s apparent that this cast has come together and bonded, with each member as strong as the next, growing as the show progresses and developing honest portrayals of the characters. The stage chemistry is genuine and emanates throughout the space.

 

Brenda Barrie in Backstage Theatre Memory - photo by Heath Hays Josh Hambrock & Samuel Buti - Backstage Theatre - Heath Hays photographer
Memory - Backstage Theatre - photo by Heath Hays Brenda Barrie & Tony Bozzuto - Backstage Theatre - photo by Heath Hays

Barrie plays the role of Eva as both as an older and younger version. Her portrayal of an older Eva is a fascinating one as she embodies the character through her actions, her voice and the emotions that play over her face. Barrie creates a quietly strong persona that seems as though it could snap in an instant, knowing that she’s been carrying around secrets and guilt for years. When it does snap the emotion that’s let loose is so raw and unfiltered that it fills up the entire space.

Murphy’s performance as Peter is lively and full of energy. He’s hungry with a curiosity to know about his family’s past and it drives him to push Eva to open up and reveal the truth.

Eva flashes back to her earlier years where Barrie, Bozzuto and De Nicola are believable as a trio of old friends, discovering who they are and what they’re meant to be. What starts as fun and frivolity quickly turns to fear and anger, causing them to choose sides (or have sides chosen for them) during the Holocaust. All three offer up captivating performances of friendships torn about by lines drawn between the Nazis and the Jews.

The transitions between Eva’s story and Bashar’s story are smooth.  Dardai plays Bashar also with a quiet strength as he stands up for not only his home but his family, his beliefs and his life. An unusual relationship is formed between him and Isaac (played by Samuel Buti). Isaac is torn between trying to help and simply carrying out orders. Buti’s performance shows this struggle through the formation of a relationship that could only happen under these specific circumstances. He’s clear in his devotion to the Israeli army but he’s humanized in his attempts at trying to ease some amount of suffering for Bashar.

At certain times throughout the performance, whether it is from the intensity or excitement of the action, the accents slip out of German/Israeli/Palestinian into something less distinguishable. That being said, the performances grow to become so emotionally charged that they grab hold of the audience, captivating them so it’s impossible to look away as the ensemble digs down to the deepest point of authentic emotion.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
   

Memory plays at the Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western Ave., through December 18 Thursday through Saturday at 7:00 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $25 and $22 for seniors.

Patrick De Nicola & Tony Bozzuto in Memory at Backstage Theatre

 

 

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