REVIEW: Robin Hood: The Panto! (Piccolo Theatre)

  
  

Raucous humor amidst the Dark Forest

  
  

piccolo theatre, robin hood, 2010, Fairy (Vanessa Hughes), Robin Hood (Berner Taylor), Fairy (Amy Gorelow), Bess Flatbottom (Andrew Roberts)

  
Piccolo Theatre presents
   
Robin Hood: The Panto!
   
Written by Jessica Puller
Music by Tyler Beattie
Directed by Glenn Proud & Brianna Sloane
at Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main (map)
through Dec 18  | 
tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

You’ve got to hand it to Piccolo Theatre for perennially bringing a bit of wacky English theater tradition to Evanston environs each holiday season. British Pantos are pure, unadulterated silliness. At Robin Hood: The Panto!, expect all the traditional British ribaldry—cheering the hero, booing the villain, and shouting, “He’s behind you!” when our hero is under sneak attack. The real fun of the show is witnessing full-on participation from a typically polite and respectful theater crowd.

Bess Flatbottom (Andrew Roberts) and Robin Hood (Berner Taylor)Oh—and the Dame (Andrew Roberts)—did I forget to mention that one must whistle and hoot every entrance made by the Dame? Shame on me! Whistle the Dame, everyone, or be known as real drag.

Co-directed by Glenn Proud and Brianna Sloane, Robin Hood: The Panto! is the newly-minted creation of young playwright Jessica Puller, who authored their successful last year’s panto, Perseus and Medusa: or It’s All Greek To Me (our review ★★★). You’d better not expect something like the Ridley Scott or Kevin Reynolds’ versions of the Robin Hood legend—Puller takes a nice big swipe at those.

No, in this version, Robin Hood (Berner Taylor) looks hot in fishnets but has a head the size of a watermelon from all the hero worship he gets from fans and the media. An eager overreacher, Scarlet (Nicole Keating) just wants to be part of Robin’s Merry Men but Robin, Little John (Adam McLeavey) and Alan A Dale (Maxx Miller) never cut her the slack to let her join. Of course, it’s tough when one is constantly outshone and out-thieved by Philip, the Cow (Vanessa Hughes and Amy Gorelow). Rescuing the lovely Maid Marian (Kaitlin Chin) from the deliciously sinister and effete Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Ben Muller) is a weekly event, but this time a trek to The Dark Forest leads Scarlet to discover a magic spell book by which she can rewrite events as she wills.

Piccolo’s production shamelessly rips off “I Love Lucy” and every other old vaudeville bit and joke. When I say old, friends, I mean that, no doubt, many of these jokes and shticks were unearthed from the catacombs. But the cast excels at driving a sassy pace and playing every moment with gusto. What is even more important is the spot-on improvisation and interaction with the audience that they deliver. On opening night, an audience member trying to sneak back into her seat after intermission was greeted with a scathing “Nice of you to join us!” from Sir Guy. But our plucky audience gave as well as they got. Once the Sheriff of Nottingham (Vic May) got turned into a duck from Scarlet’s magic spell book, someone from the audience yelled out “AFLAC!”

The Fairies (Vanessa Hughes and Amy Gorelow) piccolo theatre, robin hood, 2010, Fairy (Vanessa Hughes), Robin Hood (Berner Taylor), Fairy (Amy Gorelow), Bess Flatbottom (Andrew Roberts) Robin Hood (Berner Taylor)

Other memorable moments include Noah Ginex’s magic scene and puppetry design, as well as Vanessa Hughes and Amy Gorelow playing the evil spirits of the Dark Forest, busting out a power ballad just like the 1980’s duo, Heart. But the show really is about the pact between audience and players to have a ridiculous, raucous good time. To that end, bring your friends and family. And watch out for the whipped cream.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Fairy (Amy Gorelow)

     
     

REVIEW: The Love of the Nightingale (Red Tape Theatre)

This eerie ‘Nightingale’ sings a refreshingly resonant tune

REDTAPE THEATRE - Photo 1

  
Red Tape Theatre presents
  
The Love of the Nightingale
  
by Timberlake Wertenbaker
directed by
James Palmer
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 621 W. Belmont
(map)
through May 29th  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

reviewed by Barry Eitel

I’m not going to lie, my expectations weren’t so high when I entered the space for Red Tape Theatre’s newest production, The Love of the Nightingale by Timberlake Wertenbaker. The last (and admittedly, only) show I saw by them, last season’s Enemy of the People (our review ★½), was pretty weak. That said, I was completely blown away. Directed by Artistic Director James Palmer, Red Tape’s Love of the Nightingale was refreshing, bizarre, and remarkably resonant.

REDTAPE THEATRE - Photo 2 Nightingale explores the ancient Greek myth of Philomele who, as all those mythology buffs out there will tell you, was transformed into a nightingale after some pretty traumatic experiences. And given that it’s written by Wertenbaker, you can bet the whole story is given a feminist twist. Palmer and his enormous cast explode the story into life, ripping it from its ancient Greek context and filling it with anachronism and theatricality. Set designer William Anderson builds a completely new space within the heart of the gym in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The set is its own little world, encircling the audience and featuring plenty of hidden drawers, doors, and other surprises. Palmer’s production is intensely physical, demanding the actors throw all they got out on-stage, just a few inches from the audience.

The story tells of the relationship between Philomele (Meghan Reardon), her sister Procne (Kathleen Romond), and her brother-in-law and King of Thrace, Tereus (Vic May). For those unfamiliar with the Greek myth, Procne asks her husband, Tereus, to bring her little sister out to Thrace for a visit. He sails over to Athens to pick her up, but things get a little heated on the trip back. Through a brilliant choice, the play is shaped and revealed by an almost silent dollmaker/carpenter/puppetmaster (Robert Oakes), who seems compelled to tell this unsettling story to us.

The dream team of designers Palmer amassed has concocted a marvelous world. Ricky Lurie’s modern-dress costumes are stunning, reveling in the uncanny style Palmer has set out. The suits and dresses are bright and colorful, contrasting sharply with the terrifying depths the play plunges towards. Anderson’s set is simple enough REDTAPE THEATRE - Photo 2 to hold all of the different scenes required in the text, yet exudes its own bizarre essence. This is all pushed by Palmer, who moonlights as lighting designer, and his fetish for flickering fluorescents. The show is eerie and surreal, sometimes a dream and sometimes a nightmare.

Although the performances are at times outdone by the incredible design, there are some choice actors here. Romond’s tortured Procne is excellent; although the character doesn’t feature much in the original myth, here we’re entranced by her struggle. As Philomele, it takes Reardon a scene or two to hit her stride but she gets there, especially as the play gets heavier. May does great work as well, finding both Tereus’ sliminess and his royalty. For such a small stage, the cast is massive. However, they all fit the play extremely well, and everyone out there is required for the world to work as well as it does.

Much of the chorus is used in choreographed movement that surrounds the audience, trapping them into Philomele’s tragic tale. However, sometimes the movement pieces overstay their welcome and reach into repetitive territory, then our interest flags. The play calls for plenty of brutality, but Zack Meyer and Claire Yearman’s fight choreography doesn’t really hack it. It works well technically, but doesn’t have the piercing specificity the rest of the show has.

From their The Love of the Nightinggale, it is clear Red Tape has an aesthetic that works for them. Hopefully, they’ll expand and explore more of what made this play great. If Red Tape keeps churning out work like this, they’ll become a tiger of the storefront scene.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
 

REDTAPE THEATRE - Photo 2

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Review: Piccolo Theatre’s “Perseus and Medusa: Or it’s all Greek to me!”

Children’s play best-suited for adult audience.

Perseus and Medusa: or it's all greek to me! 

Piccolo Theatre presents:

Perseus and Medusa: Or it’s all Greek to me!

by Jessica Puller
directed by Glenn Proud and Brianna Sloane
thru December 19th (ticket info)

reviewed by Keith Ecker

Piccolo Theatre’s new holiday panto, Perseus and Medusa: Or it’s all Greek to me!, is a hilarious parody of the well-known Greek myth about a young, boyish hero who must slay the vile Medusa out of a sense of duty. The slapstick-filled production plays like a bawdy cabaret, with sexual innuendo and gender-bending peppering the piece. Adults will definitely get a kick out of the humor, which includes a character whose name sounds like a part of the female Perseus and Medusa: or it's all greek to me!anatomy. However, much to their dismay, their children may also get a kick out of these same antics, which often are too low-flying to be over even an 8-year-old’s head.

This isn’t to say there is something negative about the baseness of the humor of the play. The original script, written by Northwestern alumni Jessica Puller, is self aware enough to make both the blue humor and the eye-roll-inducing puns entertaining. Its brashness itself is a joke, almost nudging the audience as if to say, “Can you believe we just said that?” This is especially true in a moment where the Dame, a clownish character played by a cross-dressing Andrew Roberts, is collecting dragon snot in a bucket with the plan to sell it as a face cream. Once a bucket is full, she remarks, “It would take me a month to fill that myself.” Although children might not understand, the adult’s in the audience know, we have ceased discussing dragon snot.

And although the piece really is a vehicle for a string of off-color jokes, there is a plot. The liberal retelling centers on Perseus (played by female ensemble member Liz Larsen-Silva), a young boy who just wants to fish. The center of town is the bait shop/hair salon, run by juvenile Linus (Dominic Furry) and Evander (Maxx Miller). The evil king (Vic May) and his daughter Andromeda (Laura Taylor) enter the picture, and, upon first sight, Perseus falls for the princess. In an effort to win her heart and at the request of the King, Perseus sets out to collect the head of Medusa, the mythical villainess whose mere glance turns men into stone.

Perseus and Medusa: or it's all greek to me! Perseus and Medusa: or it's all greek to me! Perseus and Medusa: or it's all greek to me!

From here the play becomes a journey story, with Perseus and his band of comical misfits overcoming challenge after challenge. The Greek god Hermes (ensemble member Leeann Zahrt) makes an appearance to assist the hero, and even the magical horse Pegasus has a cameo. Characters directly address the audience at times, and audience members are encouraged to actively cheer for the good guys and boo for the villains. There are a few song and dance numbers throughout, including a loungey, seductive tune by the voluptuous Danae (ensemble member Vanessa Hughes), who could be at home on top of a piano

The play is separated by an intermission, with the first half dragging on longer than necessary. But overall the script’s pacing is good, though it might cause younger children to squirm in their seats.

The acting is solid, with no weak links in the cast. Roberts delivered a stand-out performance in his role as the clownish Dame. His fluctuating falsetto and wild hand gestures were belly-achingly funny throughout.

Ensemble members Glenn Proud and Brianna Sloane shared directing duties, balancing the cast of more than a dozen so that the production never felt cluttered. Their talents really shine in the fight sequence between Hermes and the villainess Nestor (ensemble member Deborah Craft), which is a well-orchestrated example of stage combat and puppetry.

Perseus and Medusa is a fun, fanciful play, but be warned: this children’s theater production might be a little too risqué for its intended audience.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

 

Review: Red Tape’s "Enemy of the People"

Enemy of the People
Red Tape Theatre

by Barry Eitel

In our age of Brita filters, it can be easy to take the quality of our water for granted. We trust that what comes out of our taps is safe, but that sometimes isn’t so, as recent problems uncovered in Crestwood, Illinois prove.

This situation, where authorities found that citizens were using water from a long-contaminated well, links Red Tape Theatre’s new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, directed by James Palmer, to extremely current events. Ensemble member Robert Oakes moved his version of Ibsen’s classic story of individual vs. the mob from a coastal Norwegian hamlet to a modern American town. Ibsen’s basic plot works very well in a contemporary context; supposedly, Jaws is also based on the play, but with a huge shark lurking in the water rather than pollutants. Red Tape’s production, on the other hand, is plagued by disconnected performances aggravated by Oates’ clunky dialogue.

enemyofpeople2Similar to Ibsen’s Victorian-era original, this Enemy of the People focuses on the problems caused by a new spa-resort built in the rural community of Cherokee. Dr. Tammy Stockman (Courtney Bennett), one of the original supporters of the spa, finds that the pipes could be tainting the community’s water. She quickly finds that her expensive solution is not what those in charge want to hear. And as she pushes to make her report public, she begins to realize that she might be alone in her struggle to renovate the source of millions of tourism dollars for the community.

Oates’ adaptation has a certain hillbilly charm—characters discuss the merits of tofu dogs and Snuggies (probably the debut of the jacket/blanket hybrid in dramatic literature). The small town feel is furthered by costume designers Jennifer Tillery and Alycia Barohn, who dress the characters in plenty of flannel, trucker hats, and fishing-related t-shirts. The simple Americana of the production is probably its most redeeming aspect, making the characters and story easy to relate to.

Tammy and Peter However, Stockman’s journey from rebellious whistleblower to town outcast is hard to navigate. Whenever the character becomes passionate, Bennett pushes a little too hard and Stockman becomes over-the-top. It’s a shame, because Bennett can be very charismatic when she’s chilling in a Snuggie with her friends. Oates’ language doesn’t help, either, sometimes throwing out deep, metaphysical arguments about the nature of truth that just don’t gel right with the rest of the dialogue. Switching Stockman’s gender (Ibsen cast the character as a man) is an interesting choice, but the text is clumsy in exploring the gender dynamic. The relationship between Tammy and her brother/mayor of Cherokee, Peter Stockman (Robert Lynch), is also underdeveloped and misses a true sibling connection between the two.

Peter and Greg The biggest problem with the production, though, is that often the actors don’t seem to be really listening to each other. The worst offender is Lynch, who appears to have a very rehearsed and fixed performance. Lynch isn’t alone, though; April Pletcher Taylor as Connie, the abrasive leader of the Small Business Association, and Nicholas Combs as Greg Hovstad, editor of a liberal news website, have similar issues. Not everyone on stage is out-of-touch; Errol McLendon’s portrayal of the truck-driving Dan Horster is simple yet captivating and Vic May is moving as Tammy’s husband Cliff.

The production benefits from Palmer’s interesting environmental staging that cycles the audience through a few locations, including making them participants in a high-stakes town meeting. Palmer is aided by lighting designer Kyle Land’s huge projections which create some interesting environments. Weak spots in Oates’ text can’t be avoided, though, and the play becomes self-indulgent and borderline preachy. By attempting to instill high ideals to the audience, the production becomes ungrounded.

Rating: «½

Related articles:Red Tape’s blog: Meet the cast of “Enemy”