REVIEW: The Marriage of Bette and Boo (Village Players)

A reverent treatment of Durang’s classic American play

 

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Village Players Theater presents
 
The Marriage of Bette and Boo
 
by Christopher Durang
Directed by
Dan Taube
at
Village Players Theater, 1010 W. Madison, Oak Park (map)
through June 27  tickets: $20-$25  |  more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

Oak Park’s Village Players Theater is closing out it’s season of “New American Classics” with The Marriage of Bette and Boo, Christopher Durang’s 1985 tragicomedy about a son reliving the painful memories of his parents marriage. Known for being a personal and autobiographical work, The Marriage of Bette and Boo is so popular for it’s sharp black humor and piercingly intense characters that it’s  become almost cliché. It’s the source of the “lost babies” monologue, a piece so rich with nuance, depth and wit that it’s made its way onto “do not use” list of many acting classes because of overuse.

DSC01487It’s no wonder that actors are drawn to Durang’s work. Bette and Boo has amazing characters, from Emily, the neurotic aunt who is full of self loathing and eagerness to apologize for transgressions she hasn’t committed – played by funny and energetic Megan E. Brown, to the hilariously contemptible priest, who’s just so over having to help his stupid parishioners (Dennis Schnell, whose priest monologue is a show stopper, on the night I saw him it received applause).

With a talented cast and a winning play, there was little director Dan Taube could have done to mess this production up and in fact, he enhanced it. Taube brings out the sadness in this work, lifting the veil of levity in every scene. Although it is a fast passed play, Taube does not shy away from taking time when it is needed to shine a spotlight on an emotional moment. Dan Taube’s direction is the invisible kind: one doesn’t really notice any direction at all, only the story that he has facilitated.

25 years after it was written, The Marriage of Bette and Boo is still a challenging piece of theater. The manic style in which it is written, and the darkness of its subject matter, make it at times difficult to watch. It also feels, well, dated. In 2010 it is no longer en vogue to deliver highly academic, sardonically funny monologues about how much one hates one’s parents (unfortunately). Stephanie Sullivan is an unsympathetic Bette, leaving one to feel that this play might just be a two-and-a-half hour long complaint about Christopher Durang’s mother. Sullivan is a strong actress, and when she is able to find moments of humanity in Bette, they are poignant and lovely (most notably in the aforementioned “lost babies” monologue) but the character – a mother who relentlessly demands to be impregnated, only to drag her family through hell with still births again and again – is as hard for the audience to love as it is for her narrating son.

Modern audiences might feel as if they are watching a very 1980’s dramady with this production, which is extremely well done but does little to innovate or modernize this “new American classic.” Most notably, the set, designed by Annette Vargas, has a super 1980’s feel. Three tall panels are designed with a brightly-colored square pattern that looks like neon stained glass. It’s pretty, and old fashioned looking, and yet somehow it works.

This Village Player’s stuck-in-the-past production is fitting – how for a play about remorse, loss and memory. How something like The Marriage of Bette and Boo could be contemporized would be a challenge. The play seems destined to stay in the 1980’s, to remain a living monument to the year of its creation. Whether or not Dan Taube is correct when he says, “One day people will look at Durang’s body of work and the innovation and the vision and put him in a class with American masters like O’Neill and Williams,” this production, presented with the loyalty and reverence of a period piece, surely supports that hypothesis.

 
 
Rating: ★★★
 
 

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REVIEW: Mud (Village Players)

An update on Tobacco Road

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Village Players presents
 
Mud
 
by Maria Irene Fornes
directed by Lawrence Keller
at
Village Players Theatre, 1101 W. Madison, Oak Park (map)
thru April 25th |  tickets: $15-$20 |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The opening action of  Mud features the character of Mae (Stephanie Ganacoplos), a woman burdened by the weight of the laundry that she carries and by the harsh conditions in which she lives. When Lloyd (Nick Bonges) enters, his role is uncertain – is he her husband, another relative, a boarder?  Bonges plays the role of Lloyd with an atavistic ferocity as bounds into the scene and stares at Mae while she irons. The scene – spare on dialogue, save for a terse exchange of expletives – crackles with a dangerous sexuality.

It is eventually discovered that Mae’s father brought Lloyd to the home as a child. He was supposed to be company for Mae and in some fashion a future spouse. However, the father died and the children were left to raise themselves in poverty and illiteracy. Mae is the first to step out and try to learn arithmetic, leaving Lloyd to animal husbandry with the pigs. What follows is an excellent exploration of servitude, poverty, and the struggle for power in domesticity.

mud Having matured without adult guidance, Mae and Lloyd are accustomed to running on instinct. Mae’s sexuality is ripening and unrequited, as Lloyd has found sexual release in bestiality. The excellent timing and nuance of the actors temper the shocking revelation that Lloyd is having relations with a pig, and we’re not meaning a female slob. When it comes to human relations, Lloyd is impotent and an unfortunate venereal prostate disease has given him a constant fever.

Mae recruits a classmate from her arithmetic class, Henry (Dennis Schnell), to read the pamphlet on venereal disease to Lloyd, which hopefully will convince Lloyd to get some medicine. Schnell’s first scene is quite funny as he portrays Henry as a pompous stiff who can read big words. Henry believes that pronouncing the words will make people believe he knows what they mean. This sequence sets up the dynamic between the three of them, making Lloyd continuously suspicious and on guard. He is more worried that his portion of food will be compromised. Mae is enthralled by Henry’s knowledge of words and they begin a sexual relationship.

Lloyd is told that he can make a pallet on the floor from newspaper. It is similar to what he does for his swine. Mae has already compared him to pigs and wished that he would die and rot in the mud. Her frustration and desire lead her to believe that Henry will free her from the dirt. Lloyd shows himself to be more astute that believed when Henry has a stroke. He has the upper hand and Henry’s care is delegated to him but both men are shown to be dependent and ignorant. They tether Mae to the house, the marital bed, and the mud.

Mud is written by Maria Irene Fornes and is featured as part of the Village Players Theatre “Women on the Cutting Edge” series. The dialogue is beautifully written and lends itself to varying degrees of interpretation. My theatre companion for the evening was disappointed the actors did not have country accents, though it could be said that the scenes prove to be much more visceral without accent – this dire situation could surely take place in urban America just as much as the boondocks. Affecting ‘country’ accents would have put too much Erskine Caldwell in the mix.  Though the action seems to take place in the 1930’s, it could be in present time as well. How often are we supposedly shocked at tales of lurid sex and unusual relationships on the evening news? Or worse, inured to tabloid adventures of the local citizenry (especially if they’re famous!).

Kudos to Annalee Johnson for her set design and props – both superb. The props look authentic down to the washing bowl made of distressed zinc. I cringed every time the character of Lloyd would soak a rag in the water and suck on it to cool his fever. Though counterintuitive, it takes talent to create a palpable feeling of dust, sweltering heat, and despair in the set design.

Applause is due to director Lawrence Keller for excellent staging and pacing of what could have been melodramatic or overwrought. This series is dedicated to showcasing women writers or women characters with an edgy sensibility. Mae is a woman on the edge and punching her way out of an untenable situation. The ending left me shaken even though I knew what was coming. The actors created a fever pitch unsullied by self-awareness. All three actors were amazing and completely consumed by the characters. The surprise was that they could shake off the characters to smile when they took their bows.

 
 
Rating: ★★½
 
 

“Mud” plays through April 25th at Village Players Theater 1010 Madison Street in Oak Park. Call the box office at 866-764-1010 or go to www.village-players.org for ticket information. The theater is easy to reach by public transportation or Metra. It is worth the field trip to the suburbs.

"Mud" stars Nick Bonges, Stephanie Ganacoplos, and Dennis Schnell. Designers include Annalee Johnson (set/props) and Emma Weber (costumes). Kelly Herz is stage managing.

Show closings – last chance to catch ‘em!

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show closings

Abe’s in a Bad Way Free Street Theater (review ★★★)

Air Guitar High Northwestern University

A Chorus Line Village Players Performing Arts Center

The Informer Prop Thtr

J.B. Chicago Fusion Theatre (review ★★★½)

Messiah on the Frigidaire Hubris Productions (review ★★★½)

Number of People Piven Theatre Workshop (review ★★★)

The Pillowman Redtwist Theatre (review ★★★)

Science Fiction Actors Gymnasium (review ★★★½)

Side Man Metropolis Performing Arts Centre (review ★★★★)

A True History of the Johnstown Flood Goodman Theatre (review ★½)

Twelve Angry Men Raven Theatre (review ★★★)

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this week’s show openings

Billy: A Post-Apocolyptic Comedy Northwestern University

Bloom Bailiwick Chicago

Cabaret The Hypocrites

Curse of the Starving Class New Leaf Theatre

Days of Late – SiNNERMAN Ensemble at the Viaduct Theatre

The Diary of Anne Frank Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Doctor’s Dilemma ShawChicago

Elictracidad – DePaul’s Merle Reskin Theatre

Endgame Steppenwolf Theatre  (our review ★★★½)

The Farnsworth Invention TimeLine Theatre

Girls vs. Boys The House Theatre of Chicago

Hephaestus Lookingglass Theatre

An Ideal HusbandColumbia College at Getz Theatre

Little Women: The Musical Loyola University Chicago

Los Nogales Millenium Park and Teatro VistaTheatre with a View

The Musical of Musicals (The Musical) Dominican University

Oliver Rising Stars Theatre Company

The Original Improv Gladiators Corn Productions

Moses in Egypt Chicago Opera Theater

Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry Piccolo Theatre

Spring Awakening Promethean Theatre Ensemble

The Taming of the Shrew Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek 20% Theatre Chicago

Welcome to Arroyo’s American Theater Company

Shows Opening/Closing this week

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Show Openings

 

“Master Harold”…and the Boys

TimeLine Theatre

The Alcyone Festival 2010 Halcyon Theatre

The Castle Oracle Theatre

Desperately Seeking Chemically Imbalanced Theater

Dreamgirls Cadillac Palace Theatre (Broadway in Chicago)

First Words Greenhouse Theater Center (MPAACT)

The Dames Storm Division New Millenium Theatre

Glitter in the Gutter Annoyance Theatre

Harper Regan Steep Theatre

Hughie/Krapp’s Last Tape Goodman Theatre

King of the Mountain Chemically Imbalanced Theater

Nighthawk Sandwich Storefront Theater (DCA Theatre)

Phedra New World Repertory Theatre

Real Bros of DuPage County Gorilla Tango Theatre

Savage in Limbo Village Players Performing Arts Center

Short Shakespeare! The Comedy of Errors Chicago Shakespeare

WHACK! Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Year of Magical Thinking Court Theatre 

 

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Show Closings

 

Annie Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Capitol Steps North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan Dance Center of Columbia College

Give Us Monday Gorilla Tango Theatre

Icarus Lookingglass Theatre

Little Women Circle Theatre

Mamma Mia! Rosemont Theatre

Mark and Laura’s Couples Advice Christmas Special Gorilla Tango Theatre

 

Openings/Closings list courtesy of League of Chicago Theatres

Theater openings and closings this week in Chicago

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show openings

 

Twas the Night Before Christmas Center for Performing Arts at Governors State

500 Clown Christmas North Central College 

American Stars in Concert for the Holidays Paramount Theatre

Civic Ballet’s The Nutcracker James Lumber Center for the Performing Arts

Icarus Lookingglass Theatre

It’s a Wonderful Life Improv Playhouse

The Klezmatics North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

The Nutcracker McAninch Arts Center

W is for Winter Prop Thtr

 

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show closings

1985 The Factory Theater (our review)

All the Fame of Lofty Deeds House Theatre  (our review)

Aunt Dan and Lemon BackStage Theatre Company

Beethoven, as I Knew Him Drury Lane Water Tower

Burlesque is More Annoyance Theatre

Carnival Nocturne – Storefront Theater  (our review)

Chad Morton’s TV Christmas Miracle Village Players Performing Arts Center

Cockettes: Christmas Spectacular Annoyance Theatre

Cold Dream Theatre

Cooperstown Theatre Seven of Chicago (our review)

The David Bowie Hepzikat Funky Velvet Flarney Solstice Spectacular Live…From Space! New Millenium Theatre

D-Cup Diatribes Gorilla Tango Theatre 

Democracy Eclipse Theatre (our review)

Faith Off Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Flaming Dames in Naughtier and Nice New Millenium Theatre

Florid Deveraux Does the Holidays Prop Thtr

Gift of the Magi EverGreen Theatre Ensemble

Gossamer Adventure Stage Chicago

Graceland Profiles Theatre 

Horrible Apollo Theatre (our review)

Hunky Dory The Factory Theater (our review)

Improv Children of the Corn 3 Corn Productions

Low Toner: Decision Quality Gorilla Tango Theatre

LUNATIC(a)S Teatro Luna (our review)

Perseus and Medusa: Or It’s All Greek to Me Piccolo Theatre

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Annoyance Theatre (our review)

Short Shorts Annoyance Theatre

A Silent Night: Grandma Got Run Over Without Healthcare Gorilla Tango Theatre

Souvenir Northlight Theatre (our review)

When She Danced TimeLine Theatre

Whining in the Windy City Royal George Theatre

Chicago theater openings/closings this week

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show openings

Anna, in the Darkness: The Basement

Dream Theatre

Bastards of Young Tympanic Theatre

Calls to Blood The New Colony

Cats Cadillac Palace Theatre

Dooby Dooby Moo Lifeline Theatre

Everyone’s Favorite Lobster Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Flaming Dames in Vamp II New Millenium Theatre

Heroes Remy Bumppo Theatre

The House on Mango Street Steppenwolf Theatre

The Last Unicorn Promethean Theatre

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Filament Theatre Ensemble

The Man Who Was Thursday New Leaf Theatre

Mrs. Gruber’s Ding Song School Gorilla Tango Theatre

Plans 1 Through 8 from Outer Space New Millenium Theatre

Rachel Corn and the Secret Society Corn Productions

You Can’t Take It with You Village Players Performing Arts Center

 

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show closings

Ah, Wilderness! Loyola University Chicago Theatre

Bad Touch and the Deep End Annoyance Theatre 

Dirty Talking Amish Gorilla Tango Theatre

Dracula Oak Park Festival Theatre

The History Boys – Timeline Theatre 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Court Theatre

The Night SeasonVitalist Theatre

Rent Big Noise Theatre

Sleeping Beauty Big Noise Theatre

Stripped: An Unplugged Evening with Marilyn’s Dress Gorilla Tango Theatre

show openings/closings this week

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show openings

1001 The Theatre School at DePaul University

American Psyche or a Breath of Fresh Care Gorilla Tango Theatre

Bucket of Blood Annoyance Theatre

The Castle of Otranto First Folio Theatre

Dirty Talking Amish Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity Victory Gardens Theater

Endira Aguijon Theater

The Hundred Dresses Chicago Children’s Theatre

Kill the Old, Torture Their Young Steep Theatre

The Last (and therefore Best) Comedy Show on Earth Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Mercy Seat Profiles Theatre

Mouse in a Jar Red Tape Theatre

Richard III Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Salem! The Musical Annoyance Theatre

Sleeping Beauty Big Noise Theatre

Sleepy Hollow Theatre-Hikes

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Taking Steps UIC Theater

Ten Square Pegasus Players and MPAACT

 

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show closings

 

All My Sons TimeLine Theatre (our review)

Baroque and Beatles Chicago a cappella 

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Circle Theatre

Desperate Gorilla Tango Theatre

A Hampstead Hooligan in King Arthur’s Court Chicago dell’Arte

High Fidelity…The Musical Route 66 Theatre

Lorca in a Green Dress Halcyon Theatre

Merce Cunningham Dance Company – Dance Center of Columbia College

Miami City Ballet Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Miracle Work Village Players Performing Arts Center

The Set Up Prop Thtr

A Shroud for Lazarus Halcyon Theatre

Texas Sheen Chemically Imbalanced Comedy