Review: Sleeping with Straight Men (Ludicrous Theatre)

     
     

Uneven tone makes theatrical mess

     
     

Timothy Tintorini and Bob Skosky in Ludicrous Theatre's "Sleeping with Straight Men" by Ronnie Larsen.

  
Ludicrous Theatre presents
   
  
Sleeping with Straight Men
   
Written by Ronnie Larsen
Directed by Wayne Shaw
at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through June 4th  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Ludicrous Theatre doesn’t seem to understand what it has on its hand with Ronnie Larsen‘s Sleeping with Straight Men. The play, which tells a loosely dramatized version of real-life events, is all over the map. At times, it delights with John Waters odd-ball eccentricity. At other times, it has the weighty seriousness of a Greek tragedy. These unfortunate shifts in tone create a jarring experience that serve to remove the audience from the action of the play, dissolving any hope of immersion. Instead, we are treated to occasional vignettes of good theatre in the midst of a river of mediocrity.

Timothy Tintorini and Bob Skosky in Ludicrous Theatre's "Sleeping with Straight Men" by Ronnie Larsen.The play borrows heavily from the actual events of the infamous “Jenny Jones Show” tragedy of 1995. For those that don’t remember (or have tried hard to forget), Jenny Jones was a popular talk show host who held her own during the saturated television talk show market of the 1990s. As the pressure to win ratings escalated, these talk shows began to amp up their subject matter, exploiting their feeble-minded guests with little sympathy. Eventually, disaster struck. In 1995, openly gay guest Scott Amedure was murdered by straight neighbor Jonathan Schmitz after Amedure confessed in front of a studio audience that he had a crush on Schmitz. Schmitz was later convicted of second-degree murder.

In Sleeping with Straight Men, we meet Stanley (Timothy Tintorini), a small-town homosexual with big, vapid dreams of stardom. Confined to a small Michigan town with a miniscule dating pool, Stanley has made it a habit to seduce straight men. However, his loins get the best of him when he encounters Lee (Bob Skosky), a heterosexual waiter. The two have a brief interaction, which is enough to sweep Stanley off his feet. When he gets word that the Jill Johnson Show is producing a segment about secret crushes, he barely hesitates to call in and volunteer Lee and himself.

Meanwhile, we get a peak into Lee’s life. He not a very likeable individual and suffers quietly in a relationship that lacks any sign of love. Upon finding out from Jill Johnson’s producers that someone has a secret crush on him, he becomes immediately infatuated with the idea of meeting his crush, who he presumes is a woman. He packs his bags and heads out to the taping.

Lee is shocked and humiliated to find out that his secret crush is a man. He begs the producers of the Jill Johnson Show to not air the episode. Knowing they have an instant ratings boost on their hands, the slick-tongued producers do what they can to convince Lee otherwise. Stanley and Lee are then sent back to Michigan, where more secret scandal begins to unfold.

I think it’s telling that cult film star Mink Stole and drag queen Hedda Lettuce were cast in the off-Broadway premier of Sleeping with Straight Men. Obviously Larsen envisioned this show to be a kitschy over-the-top satire. And why not? The talk show circuit was a modern-day freak show.

But in the hands of director Wayne Shaw, the play is just too low-key. With the exception of Tintorini, who is delightfully campy, all performances are down-to-earth. That’s not to say these aren’t good actors. Skosky especially has a strong stage presence and a superb delivery. However, this play isn’t about realness. It’s dark comedy. And without that knowing wink, it’s just a sad tragedy.

Ludicrous Theatre’s production of Sleeping with Straight Men needs a directorial makeover. All the components are here for a good play. The actors can act. The script is solid. But the pieces just don’t add up to a successful comedy. If the director took some time to study the genre and even out the tone, he’d have a comedic hit.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Timothy Tintorini (Stanley) and Bob Skosky (Lee) in Ludicrous Theatre's "Sleeping with Straight Men" by Ronnie Larsen.

  

   

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Review: Arms and the Man (Saint Sebastian Players)

  
  

Wrap your arms around this play!

  
  

Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw - presented by Saint Sebastian Players

  
Saint Sebastian Players presents
 
Arms and the Man
  
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Jim Masini
at
St. Bonaventure Church, 1625 W. Diversey (map)
through March 13  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I always look forward to what I consider classics. I love Shakespeare, Wilde, and yes George Bernard Shaw. It’s the stuff that I had to read and write reports about in high school. Shaw has a special place in my heart for his character development, especially the female characters. In Arms and the Man, the female characters are wise, witty, and multidimensional, especially in light of the time period portrayed.

Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 05The actors in the Saint Sebastian Players’ production are pitch-perfect in this production directed by company member Jim MasiniKelly Rhyne plays the role of Raina Petkoff with coquettish aplomb and a dash of spicy feminism. Yes – feminism, which manifests itself in many way; here as a fiery, girlish, woman of power. Rhyne is a radiantly beautiful young actress, perfectly cast as the aristocratic Raina with her glowing ivory skin and delicate features. She looks as if she were really related to Melissa Reeves, who plays the archly funny matriarch Catherine Petkoff, whose comic timing and subtle physicality is a hallmark of Shavian comedy (also at home in the work of Oscar Wilde).

Drew Longo as Captain Bluntschli is reminiscent of Giancarlo Giannini in Wertmuller’s “Seven Beauties”. The exhaustion from battle, the hunger, and the desperation all play across Mr. Longo’s face – and he is hysterically funny. The dialogue is given the full weight of irony that is so essential to a comedy or farcical presentation of high society.  And the scene where Longo gobbling up the chocolates from Raina’s bureau is poignant and funny because of how well the characters interact.

Another brilliant bit of casting is Victoria Montalbano as the maid Louka. Ms. Montalbano gives great face to the all-knowing servant. Shaw illustrates the hypocrisy of elite society with the lower classes. The coercive sexual mores are turned on their heads in this work as Louka holds the aces. What a feminist she is! Her character shuns the dreary and dependable suitor, Nikola, played by the wonderful Chris McGillivray. The life of being the manservant’s wife who is taken behind the topiary is no life for her. Mr. McGillivray is also poignantly funny as the schlumpy manservant, having a great face for comedy, as perfectly witnessed as he offers the blue satchel around the room of characters.

        
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This production also stars two of the finest fall guys that I have seen in a while. Greg Callozzo as Major Petkoff is near genius in the puffed up buffoonery of nouveau riche in epaulets. The hair and the expressions fit the character’s obliviousness to what is hitting the fan and the electric bell in his home. The dialogue about bathing is just choice. Charles Askenaiser as Major Sergius Saranoff is wonderfully farcical as well. He portrays the silliness of the privileged officer braggart exquisitely.

Arms and the Man resonates to this day as a portrait of the futile nature of military war, the war between social classes, and the wars of the sexes. The human imperative to dominate obscures meaningful purpose and puts up blocks to true connection.

Emil Zbella’s sets are quite lovely and authentic-looking for turn of the 19th century. The brocades and floral patterns are fun and well designed. I loved the oh-so-special library that Lady Petkoff speaks of in proud tone and the look on her face when she pushes the electric bell is just great. The costumes (Tina Godziszewski) are fun and also appear quite authentic for 1885. There are bustles, furs and parasols (I want that fur night cloak that Raina wraps in when the bedraggled Captain Bluntschli invades her dainty bedchamber!). The wigs and hair are worthy of an operatic wig master. When I saw the actors after the show it was hard to tell who was who. That is a sign of a great production where the actors disappear into the characters on stage. They were just as gracious off stage. Go see this play. It is fun and goes way beneath the surface. The more the world changes-the more it stays the same.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
   

Arms and the Man - Sebastian Players - setArms and the Man continues through March 13th at Saint Bonaventure Parish at Diversey and Ashland n Chicago. This play is part of the 30th Anniversary season for theatre company. Visit the website for more information www.saintsebastianplayers.org


Artists

 

Cast: Kelly Rhyne* (Raina Petkoff), Victoria Montalbano* (Louka), Charles Askenaizer (Major Sergius Saranoff), Greg Callozzo (Major Petkoff), Drew Longo (Captain Bluntschli), Chris McGillivray (Nikola), and Melissa Reeves (Catherine Petkoff).

Production: Jim Masini (director), Emil Zbella (set designer), Tina Godziszewski  (costume design) Mansie O’Leary (costume design) Kalin Gullberg (lighting design), Leah Cox (dramaturg), Adam Seidel* (set construction manager), Don Johnson* (sound design), Al Cerkan* (stage manager), Mary Whalen* (properties manager), John Oster (photos), Nancy Pollock* and Jill Chukerman Test* (co-producters).

*Saint Sebastian Players member

  
  

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