REVIEW: Mid-Winter’s Tales ‘09 (ShawChicago)

Unwrap This Holiday Present NOW!

 

ShawChicago presents

Mid-Winter’s Tales 09

At the Ruth Page Theatre (1016 N. Dearborn)
Adapted and directed by Belinda Bremner

December 18th-21st (ticket info: 312-587-7390) 

By Katy Walsh

Before the age of electronic entertainment, communities gathered around the fireplace to tell stories. With the wind howling outside and increased hours of darkness, families told tales to amuse themselves and brighten the long nights of winter. ShawChicago presents Mid-Winter’s Tales 09, a collection of multi-generational stories and songs. Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 mixes it up with a variety of author samplings from a W.B. Yeats’ poem followed by a column snippet from Chicago’s own Mike Royko to, of course, words of wisdom from George Bernard Shaw. Although the show celebrates the winter solstice with cultural representation leaning in an English direction, it balances out the traditional Christmas fruitcake focus with a double helping of lakes (pronounced la keys).

With the aid of DVDs to set the holiday mood, I’ve memorized many lines from the retelling of stories, like; “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and “Christmas in Connecticut.” To my delight, Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 shares an unfamiliar collection of holiday stories. “The Wise Men of Chelm and the Miracle Lakes” is a stone soup rofendition about potato pancakes entertainingly led by ensemble member John Francisco. Mary Michell is hilarious in corresponding with her true love and his clever gift-giving in “Not Another Partridge in a Pear Tree.” Living in the generation of holiday gluttony, the moments that melt icicle-hearts are the recalling of children’s holidays in “Hilda Sutt Polchek Remembers Christmas at the Hull House” and “Scarlett Ribbons.

Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 is performed on a bare stage with guitar (Rachel Schiff) and violin (Blake Hackler) accompaniment. This strings-only music adds an undertone of sad winter quiet – that at times the amplified music competes with the non-miked cast. The actors are a talented band of storytellers. In the dreary winter evening, without a Christmas tree and a menorah to look at, the audience focuses on the actors’ facial expressions and their words. Spoiled lately from the grandeur of big musical productions, it’s hard to adjust to the sparse stage. Because Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 represents simpler times of storytelling, the plainness has an authentic and intimate quality.

Although an exploration of multi-religious representation of winter solstice could prove to be even more interesting, this 2009 focus on Jewish folklore promotes both understanding of its traditions and strong cravings for lakes (even though and I don’t like potatoes!).

 

Rating: ★★★

 

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Review: “The Night Season

A richly-developed Irish love story

Vitalist - NIGHT - 2 

Vitalist Theatre and Premiere Theatre & Performance presents:

The Night Season
by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
directed by Elizabeth Carlin-Metz
Theatre Building Chicago 
thru October 17th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Vitalist - NIGHT - 4 The Night Season, written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is an Irish love story about the lonely Kennedy family. Each member of the family has their own insecurities caused by their mother’s abandonment 5 years earlier, and each of them is on their own path to find love. The outstanding performance by the cast and, exceptional use of the stage with creative touches to enhance the Celtic atmosphere, makes this show heartwarming – even in the midst of the dark struggles each family member endures.

Set in Sligo, Ireland, a town near the shore and once home to the famous poet W.B. Yeats, the stage is brightened by the starry night and hazy lighting that romanticizes the atmosphere. Set designer Craig Choma ’s extremely creative set, and the lighting (by lighting designer Richard Norwood) used to separate scenes, allows multiple plot lines to take place right in front of our eyes without any confusion as to which characters we should be paying attention. The direction of Elizabeth Carlin-Metz makes the transition between scenes fluid and actually heighten the emotional moments by assisting the understanding of the time lapses, or the fact that the two situations take place at the same time.

The play opens up with the audience able to watch the three sisters chatting on the rooftop, while grandmother is slouched down sleeping in her arm chair in the living room. As the closet door opens we get a unique viewpoint (as if we are looking down on him from the sky) of father as he restlessly fights his nightmares while sleeping drunk in his bedroom.

Each member of the family is weighted down with loneliness; longing to be loved by another. They are filled with an insecurity of being unloved, yet there is a bond and a closeness between each, and an unconditional love that exists within their own family (this includes the aging mother of the women that caused this family all of their sorrow.)

Vitalist - NIGHT - 3 The three sisters are single and unlucky in love. Rose (Kelly Lynn Hogan), who the grandmother refers to as a spinster, hastily jumps in bed with the visiting American actor John (Jared Fernley) who is staying with the Kennedys while playing the role of Yeats in a movie. In that moment John is looking for comfort after his mother’s recent death, but Rose wakes up in the morning to find an unwelcomed difference in the intimacy John offers her. The youngest daughter Maud (Eden Newmark) is stuck in a relationship with an unaffectionate communist sympathizer, and the eldest daughter Judith (Vanessa Greenway) is too afraid to open up and – since she has stepped in as the family’s mother – she’s too busy to recognize her feelings for the cerebral neighborhood man, Gary Malone (Paul Dunckel.)  Judith is mature beyond her age and has taken on a cold emotionless state that comes with the necessity of constantly having to take care of responsibilities outside of your own. Visiting her absent mother, and then letting loose with her Father on her first drinking binge, Judith goes on a journey to discover her capacity to love, and finds it in places that have always been there.

Every character is richly developed by author Rebecca Lenkiewicz, but the Grandmother Lily O’Hanlon and the girls’ Father Patrick Kennedy stand out with enduring performances by Marry O’Dowd and Don Bender. The Grandmother’s (Patrick’s Mother-in-law)  quirky and at times raunchy personality is light and fun and she also draws empathy from us as we watch her age with dementia and sadness. In her eccentric and loony state she continues to search for her last love and in a way she finds it in the gentleman arms of John.

The Night Season is a truly great Irish love story, filled with the complications of life and the strength of a loving family who supports each other in spite of their flaws. Lenkiewicz brings up themes of guilt, love and the passing of time and how life will bring us to face these states over-and-over again in our lives. The common occurrence and unavoidable ending to these moments should not devalue their importance nor limit you from experiencing another separate love story. Through all the pain and hardships, life goes on for the Kennedy family. The Night Season is an enchanting story playing and I highly recommend it.

Rating: ««««

Vitalist - NIGHT - 1

 

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