Review: Sinbad, The Untold Story (Adventure Stage Chicago)

  
  

Update on a classic adventure fantasy takes off, but not high

  
  

(l to r) Edgar Sanchez, Mildred Langford, Dana Dajani. Photo by Johnny Knight.

  
Adventure Stage presents
   
Sinbad: The Untold Story
   
Written by Charles Way
Directed by Amanda Delheimer
at Vittum Theater , 1012 N. Noble (map)
through April 16  |  tickets: $12-$17  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

How relieving, I thought while sitting amongst the kids and pre-teens at Adventure Stage’s Saturday matinee, to hear the words “Baghdad” and “Koran” outside of a contentious context. The children who will see Sinbad: The Untold Tale are part of a generation who’ve never experienced America before its frighteningly mainstream Islamophobic discourse, before every televised use of the phrase “Muslim” was intrinsically linked to controversy and heated debate. Charles Way’s 2006 play, on the other hand, is about as amenable as it gets: a quest story promoting courage and nobility–values that are universal with characters that are relatable.

The intent, as well as the production’s partnership with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, is commendable; the execution is so-so.

Edgar Miguel Sanchez and Mike Ooi (koken) - photo Johnny KnightWay’s tale takes place in the years after Sinbad the Sailor’s epic journeys in “1001 Arabian Nights,” after the adventurer has wrapped up his seventh voyage at sea and called it quits. Retirement doesn’t end the world’s conquests, though, so when a witch plagues his city with a haze that in short-time will kill all adults (“Gas-s-s-s!,” anyone?), the tired and afflicted sailor transfers the hero role to his eager orphan porter (Edgar Miguel Sanchez, physically-grounded and affable as the young lead, alongside Dana Dajani as his travel partner Ittifaq).

From thereon, there aren’t many divergences from the tried-and-true action-for-kids plot. The porter is handed a box containing three items to use in times of peril, a girl sets out to prove herself by tagging along, saving him and becoming a love interest along the way, clever quips abound, etc. etc. It’s all very familiar and sustainable. But assuming the young audiences are not familiar with the original Sinbad stories, they’ll likely trip over a few recurring points. They may ask themselves, “who is that old man that keeps talking about adventures that sound more interesting? Who is Ittifaq’s mom, and why should I care?”

The action works from time to time. David Chrzanowski’s fight choreography infuses some video-game-type elements that, at the performance I attended, garnered lots of positive verbal reaction from the kids and least one audible “that’s cooool!” from a little girl behind me. Others fall comically short, like an attempt at a flying carpet that left two actors’ feet visible under their stuffed faux-legs. Not yet versed in polite restraint, many of the children outwardly giggled during a moment clearly aiming for a different response.

Sinbad: The Untold Tale could easily shave off 15 minutes, and its desired audience is a little ambiguous. As a journey tale, it meets the bar–but it isn’t magic.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
   
  

Sinbad the Untold Story. Photo by Johnny Knight

Sinbad: The Untold Story continues through April 16th, with 10:30am performances March 22, 24 and 31; April 5, 7, 8, 12, 14 and 15.  Family matinee 2pm performances continue April 2, 9 and 16, with a special evening performance April 8th at 7pm. Tickets are not available online.  Instead, call 773.342.4141.

  
  

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REVIEW: And a Child Shall Lead (Adventure Stage)

   
  

Against Genocide, Art Endures

 

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Adventure Stage presents
   
And a Child Shall Lead
   
Written by Michael Slade
Directed by
Tom Arvetis
at Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble (map)
through December 9  |  tickets: $12-$17  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Feeling a little depressed, now that “hope and change” from the 2008 election has thoroughly lost its gloss? Head on over to Adventure Stage Theatre’s production, And a Child Shall Lead. Take a good look at young people fighting insurmountable odds to sustain creativity and to speak truth to power.

And a Child Shall Lead - Adventure Stage Chicago 011Under the Nazis, from 1941 to 1945, the 18th-century fortress of Terezin, located in present day Czech Republic, was a nightmare place where youthful promise was meant to die. It was a transit camp where deported Jews either succumbed to starvation and disease or were shipped out to Auschwtiz, Majdanek and Treblinka. But Terezin was also a place where the Gestapo deported Jewish artists. Such a strong repository of cultured European Jewry yielded over 6000 hidden works of art created by Terezin’s children—hidden because any evidence of cultural creation or education at Terezin was punishable by death.

Michael Slade’s drama focuses solely on the child artists of Terezin. They draw, write poetry, stage puppet shows, play music and run their own newspaper. While mostly young adults take on child roles for the production, no adult character disturbs the world of this play. And a Child Shall Lead is meant for younger audiences but adults can also benefit from getting back to basics. Just an hour into the play makes one realize the perennial nature of their struggle–simply to be heard, to have the truth told, no matter how terrible, and to create a vision of a better future worth surviving for. Unlike us, the child artists of Terezin carry out their mission under far deadlier and more dehumanizing circumstances.

Heavy stuff for children’s theater; yet Director Tom Arvetis preserves the youthful drive and perspective of his cast through an energetic and rigorous pace of playing games: hide and seek, hiding from Nazi guards, hiding their artwork and newspaper articles in their own secret places, stealing paper from trash bins (because paper has been forbidden them) and carrying on lessons while a child stands lookout. Even while portraying hunger, illness, and an ever-present terror of arbitrary execution, Arvetis’ cast brings excitement, suspense, and playfulness to their characters’ fight for survival, beauty and meaning. Play and preserving play in the midst of horror is this production’s most successful feature. Well-balanced scenic (Jessica Kuehnau), sound (Miles Polaski) and lighting design (Brandon Wardell) perfectly supplement and supports the action.

 

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Getting the truth out to others about the atrocities they endure proves far more overwhelming for Terezin’s children. The Third Reich showcases the city as the “Fuhrer’s gift to the Jews,” a place where they can be safe from the war. But, in reality, Terezin functions as a distraction from The Final Solution. The Gestapo produces a propaganda film about the city, complete with staged scenes of healthy and contented Jewish residents engaged in crafts. As the Red Cross visits Terezin, the children attempt to get their newspaper Vedem to the inspectors, but fail. All the Red Cross perceives is whitewashed Nazi reality.

What endures from Terezin is the artwork and the bits of their newspaper. Death comes for nearly every character in the play–certainly, 15,000 children died in the actual ghetto. The production displays artwork copied from the artwork produced by the children of Terezin. Every poem recited is poetry that survived this awful place. While Slade’s play could benefit from a small amount of editing, no one can deny the emotional impact of his clear, simple and forthright work. It touches the primal core in us all and Michael Slade places our need for human dignity at the very center of childlike self-expression.

  
   
Rating: ★★★½
      
   

Recommended for ages 11 and up (6th thru 8th grades).

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Adventure Stage Chicago announces 2010-2011 Season

Adventure Stage Chicago

 

Adventure Stage Chicago Announces 2010-2011 Season

 

for Young Audiences

 

Adventure Stage Chicago (ASC) proudly announces their 2010-2011 season for young audiences, comprised of three thrilling plays making their Chicago debuts: a moving Holocaust drama, an action-packed magical adventure and a comedic physical theater event.


 

October 30 – Dec. 9, 2010

 

And a Child Shall Lead by Michael Slade

Directed by ASC Producing Artistic Director Tom Arvetis

Chicago Premiere!

     
  Thirty miles outside Prague lies the city of Terezin, a Nazi-described "Jewish ghetto" and makeshift way station for millions of people awaiting transfer to death camps. Amid such bleak surroundings, a group of courageous children create stories, music, poetry, drawings, plays, puppets, and even an underground newspaper to craft a dream world of hope and beauty in a place where neither exist. Incorporating actual poems and other writings recovered from Terezin after the war, this exquisite play explores the strength, optimism and extraordinary resilience at the core of the human spirit. Recommended for ages 11 and older.

Performance Schedule:

  • Previews: 10:30 a.m. Oct. 28 & 29
  • Weekends: 2:00 p.m. Oct. 30, Nov. 6, Nov. 13, Nov. 20 & Nov. 27 (Saturdays) and Nov. 14 & 28 (Sundays)
  • Weekdays: 10:30 a.m. Nov. 2, 4, 9, 16, 18, 23, 30 & Dec. 2, 7, 9
  • Evenings: 7:00 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26 only.

 

March 19 – April 16, 2011

Sinbad: The Untold Tale  by Charles Way

Directed by Amanda Delheimer

U.S. Premiere!

     
  Ittifaq, the pampered daughter of famed sailor Sinbad of the Seven Seas, bristles under her father’s overprotective care and longs for an adventure of her own. Young Sinbad, an orphaned porter, lives on the streets and relies on his clever wit to survive. The two meet by chance just before a bitter sorceress casts a poison cloud over the city of Baghdad. Rendered sick by the witch’s curse, the elder Sinbad bids his daughter and the porter to set sail in search of the poison’s antidote. On their quest, the unlikely duo form a reluctant bond as they encounter good and evil genies, daring swordfights, magic boats and flying carpets. But can Sinbad and Ittifaq defeat the sorceress in time, or will their beloved city be destroyed forever? Recommended for ages 9 and older.

Performance Schedule:

  • Previews: 10:30 a.m. March 17 & 18
  • Weekends: 2:00 p.m. March 19, March 26, April 2, April 9 & April 16 (Saturdays)
  • Weekdays: 10:30 a.m. March 22, 24, 29, 31 & April 5, 7, 8, 12, 14, 15
  • Evenings: 7:00 p.m. Friday, April 8 only.

 

 

May 3 – May 21, 2011

500 Clown Nose

  World Premiere!
 

Experience 500 Clown’s signature mix of high physicality, raw emotion and powerful storytelling with content accessible to an all-ages audience. In 500 CLOWN NOSE, three clowns stumble into a quagmire and soon find themselves jailed in a barren landscape. Their attempts at escape encompass slapstick mishaps, vaudevillian turns, clown acts and daring physical feats. Their desperate search for a way out relies on ingenuity and resilience. When they find the exit, freedom comes at the price of leaving the fun world they’ve created. Featuring 500 Clown founder Adrian Danzig with Timothy Heck and Lea Pascal.   

Performance Schedule:

  • Weekends: 2:00 p.m. & 7:00 p.m. May 7, 14, & 21 (Saturdays) and 7:00 p.m. May 6, 13 & 20 (Fridays)
  • Weekdays: 10:30 a.m. May 3, 5, 10, 11, 17 & 19

 

Tickets for all shows are $17.00 for adults, $12.00 children aged 14 and under, $10.00 previews and $8.00 school groups. Other group discounts available. Passport to Adventure subscriptions are available beginning in mid-September. For tickets or more information, call (773) 342-4141 or visit www.adventurestage.org.

All shows are performed at Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble St., in the heart of Chicago’s West Town neighborhood. Street parking is available, and the theater is close to the Noble St. stop on the #56 Milwaukee bus line and the Division stop on the CTA Blue Line. The theater is wheelchair accessible.

Each Adventure Stage Chicago production presents weekday performances primarily for school groups, as well as weekend matinees for the general public. Every performance includes a post-show audience talkback with the cast.

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REVIEW: The Ghosts of Treasure Island (Adventure Stage)

Rockin’ adaptation reveres original pirate tale

 

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Adventure Stage Chicago presents
 
The Ghosts of Treasure Island
 
script by Eric Schmiedl
Music/lyrics by Captain Bogg and Salty
directed by Amanda Delheimer
at the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble (map)
through May 20th | tickets: $12-$17 | more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

Childhood is an existential crisis. Little ones ask their parents "why?" after any conceivable statement, sure that adults are omniscient rulers, who hold in their minds the secrets of life’s mysteries. The grown-ups, unable to answer questions  like, "why does a car go? Not how, but why?" end up distracting kiddies with rules, especially rules about how rude and annoying it is to ask unanswerable questions. Our rules say, "be good, and treasure-island1good things will happen to you." Childhood lore tends to reflect and uphold these laws, good conquers, evil is defeated, and happiness reigns. Young adult novels, plays and movies rarely venture into areas of ambiguous morality, but those that do are rewarded with critical acclaim, and sometimes the promise of timelessness; such is the case with Robert Louis Stevenson‘s 1881 Treasure Island. This is a tale that truly respects the emotional intelligence of children, and Adventure Stage Chicago‘s theatrical adaption of The Ghosts of Treasure Island doesn’t shy away from that.

From the opening scenes of this thrilling play, the audience is confronted with themes of familial loyalty, regrets of old age and the beckoning call to youth to "make your mark" on the world. This is a show that – to steal Del Close‘s famous phrase – plays to the top of it’s intelligence. From the creative set designed by Chelsea Warren, which includes a beam which can be raised to transform a flat wooden floor into a pirate ship, to the artful adaptation by playwright Eric Schmiedl, who plays hard on the book’s themes of self-discovery and moral ambiguity.

One of the most striking parts of the play is the performance of Glenn Stanton as the depressive alcoholic pirate Billy Bones, whose life of regret, and pathetic death serve as the inciting incident of this play. He is actually scary as the forlorn pirate, whose drunken state gives way to demented fantasies and violent, erratic behavior. Jim Hawkins, played here by youthful Kroydell Galima, should have been played by an actual teenager, instead of an adult actor who can play young. However, Galima is committed, intelligent and earnestly in touch with the emotional state of a child.

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Punctuating scenes and major emotional shifts in this play is the pirate band Captain Bogg and Salty, who according to the program worked closely with the playwright in creating the adaptation. The music is dark and intense, and the lyrics are poetic. The band transforms a turn of the last century tale into a ballad rock musical, whose emotional intensity matches the complicated 129-year old story.

Ghosts of Treasure Island is a rocking adaptation that reveres the original tale. A perfect blend of childhood angst and modern day craft have made a near perfect children’s play. There are short comings, however. The play, which runs over an hour and a half may be a bit long for some young audiences. Additionally, this play has the potential to be too scary. It holds children to a high level, so make sure the little guys and girls you bring on board are up for an intellectual challenge and can handle the fear factor. In terms of raising the stakes of children’s theater, however, The Ghosts of Treasure Island truly hits the mark.

 
Rating: ★★★

Recommended for ages 9 and up (4th thru 8th grades).

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  • April 24 (Performance is part of ASC’s Spring Fling: A Pirate Party)
  • May 1 (Behind the Scenes Day – Get a VIP tour after the show)
  • Special Evening Performance: Friday May 7th at 7:00 p.m.
  • May 8 (Picture with a Pirate Day – Take photos with the cast)

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