Review: Make Me Love You (New Rock Theatre)

     
    

Love me or quit me?

  
  

A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge Theatre

  
New Rock Theater presents
  
Make Me Love You (an evolution of love)
  
Conceived and Directed by Brandon Pape
Music performed by
Paper Thick Walls
at New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston (map)
through Feb 20  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Make Me Love You (an evolution of love), conceived and directed by The Verge Theatre’s Brandon Pape, takes a look at the various stages of love and how it affects those in it and those around it. Love is great while it’s good, but when it goes bad it’s like accidently taking a swig of that sour, curdled milk you left sitting in the fridge three weeks past its due date. With Valentine’s Day thrown into the mix, the Verge takes a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of love.

A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge TheatreThe set, designed by Andréa Ball, is a very industrial space. With scaffolding, exposed lights and wiring and plastic hanging around like drapes and curtains, it creates a cool warehouse vibe. It’s almost like walking into a found space that someone decided to use as a backdrop for their performance, without all the bells and whistles, fancy set pieces and all the flair. The set also provides a jungle gym of sorts for the actors to swing, run and climb around on as they perform, creating interesting visual levels for the eyes to follow and a perfect opportunity to break through the fourth wall separating cast from audience.

Make Me Love You is a combination of three short plays performed and intermixed with poetry by various artists, and music performed live by Paper Thick Walls. It’s an interesting combination of mediums used as a portrayal of relationships and love. The show comes at the notion of love from all angles, literally and figuratively, with the use of so many art forms as well as the actors moving about the space not only in front of the audience but on the sides, behind them and through the aisles. It’s a very visual and sensory experience that, at times, fully engulfs the audience in the action and pulls the emotion through them.

The cast (Kevin Anderson, Rebecca Drew Emmerich, Joe Sultani, Claire Alden, Wes Drummond, Atra Asdou, Tom Scheide and Cathlyn Melvin) does a fine job of keeping the energy high to the pace of the performance is steady and moves along well. Although it keeps moving, there are many points at which there seems to be a disconnect between one scene to the next or different actions. It’s understood the overall underlying theme of Make Me Love You is love and relationships, but at certain points this theme takes on too broad of scope, leaving me wishing for a more concrete arch that connects the various parts of the performance.

     
A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge Theatre A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge Theatre

While appreciating the use of not only the short plays but the poetry and music with dance, some of the poems are powerful and fulfilling while others come across as just words repeated off a page with less force behind a meaning.

The performances by Paper Thick Walls and the choreography performed by the cast is interesting to watch and listen to but it is clear that not all of the actors are dancers so some movements are not as sharp.

It’s a welcome sight to see that Make Me Love You investigates not only mushy romantic love, but explores what happens when loves fades or makes people act in ways they never otherwise would. It plays into all of the different emotions that spring from love and relationships, taking the performance to different levels to keep the audience engaged.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Make Me Love You (an evolution of love) plays at the New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston, through February 20. Tickets are $10 general admission and can be purchased by calling (773) 639-5316.

A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge Theatre

     
     

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REVIEW: Abe’s in a Bad Way (Free Street Theater)

The American psyche exposed in “Abe”

 Amber Smith as Abe, and ensemble. Photo credit: Anita Evans 

 
Free Street Theater presents
 
Abe’s in a Bad Way
 
directed by Anita Evans
at
Pulaski Park Field House, 1419 W. Blackhawk (map)
through April 17th (more info)

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

In every collective conscious experience, there is a print left on the human psyche so that everyone is feeling that thing in a familiar way. Some will say that they can’t put a name to it until another experience comes to clarify what occurred. A light bulb goes on and one is left wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The very talented performers of the youth ensemble of Free Street Theater have provided a brilliant exposure of Abraham Lincoln with Abe’s in a Bad Way

abeflagThis production is called a string musical installation and stretches the boundaries of what is called theater. One is spellbound experiencing the performers’ revelation of Abraham Lincoln’s last days – done with impeccable timing and flashes of dark humor. 

The action starts with a vignette from the play Our American Cousin, which was playing at the Ford Theater on that fateful night. It is a funny enactment of what was most definitely mediocre 19th-century theater. When the shot rings out, the scene is set for the an entire country in the state of shock. The sound of the Long String instruments, a guitar, and box/block percussion provide a stirring dirge-like atmosphere. A doctor appears downstage to add a leit motif of dialogue, detailing the President’s last hours. It is factual and yet haunting to hear what is discovered to be the actual medical transcription of Lincoln’s heart rate, respiration, and pulse.

There are projections upstage that show Lincoln’s personal life as well as the history of his days in office. We see through these images not only a country dealing with grief and sadness over the assassination, but also the grief and mourning of his family. Ultimately it is shown that Lincoln dealt with through constant grief and depression all while governing a nation divided. His marriage to Mary Todd was seen as a sudden decision and their union was fraught with tragedy and division.

The show’s depiction of the stages of depression and anger is a very intense experience. A player sits in the iconic pose of the Lincoln Memorial in a rail back chair while being berated with a twisted ‘this is your life Abe’ tirade. There is a young woman sitting at the foot of the President who taunts Lincoln (Amber Smith) with the details of his sudden marriage and children’s deaths. Then there is what was perceived to be his political failures recited as a bitter litany. His failure to be elected senator and a hard fought national election of which the result was immediate secession by Southern states and the Civil War. The sepia toned daguerreotypes on the screen behind project pictures of his children, along with images from Civil War battles, piles of bodies stacked into piles, make the era seem more current than ages ago.

AbeIndexWeb Another wonderful scene involves the ghost of Lincoln’s son Willie, standing in front of his gravestone, comforting his father with talk about heaven. A haunting tune is sung in the background as Willie tells the dying president that being dead is easy. As the doctor pronounces Lincoln dead, the ensemble takes the stage and echoes the dying breath in relief and acceptance to an adaptation of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain” set to music.

The performances of these young people are professional and on a par with the most stringently trained Method actors. At a post show talk about their creative process, it suddenly occurred to me that these were teenagers. The crackling energy and excitement of being on stage was running through the room. They explained how they created Abe’s in a Bad Way. This is a product of extensive research on depression and the details that made up the life of Lincoln and his family. Also explained were some of the nuts and bolts of blocking on stage, and the stream of consciousness and improvisation that went into creating the dialogue and physical movement for the different stages of grief. Also present were Director Anita Evans and Musical Director Stone to answer questions or elaborate on the process of creating this production. Stone’s musical resume includes performance with String Theory Productions. The instruments sat on a coffin base and an antique trunk surrounded by American flag bunting. They look liked deconstructed pianos, a ghostly blend of harmonica, violin, zither, and percussion. Ms. Evans seemed to have a disciplined yet very respectful approach to working with these young actors, which definitely shines through in the finished product. This is not cute children’s theatre – the future is now with these performers and I expect that we will be hearing from them again and again. In fact, some of the company is traveling to Thailand to create a production with Makhampon Theater in Chiang Dao, Thailand.

The performers are as follows: Chance Damon, River Damon, Danielle Davis, Sophia de Oliveria, Summer Edmonds, Giovanni Gonzalez, Karina Gonzalez, Arden Harris, Linda Millan, Nemeh Morrar, Amber Smith, and Brittany Ward. The talented ensemble also wrote the play with assistance from Director Evans and excerpts from writings about Abraham Lincoln. I encourage you to see this production. Free Street Theater is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year – 40 years of nationally-acclaimed productions and some very gifted performers. I was a day camp kid on a field trip to Ravinia in 1970 when I first saw Free Street. I had seen big productions in the Loop and still I thought Free Street was the coolest thing running. I had the same feeling some 40 (what??!) years later.

 
Rating: ★★★
 

Abe’s in a Bad Way runs through April 17th. Friday’s at 7:00 and Saturday’s at 2:00. Free Street is located at 1419 W. Blackhawk on the 3rd floor of the Pulaski Park Field House. Call 773-772-7248 or www.freestreet.org

abebad

Free Street Theater penetrates the mind of one miserable man who lived to make one nation indivisible.

Northwestern University’s 78th annual Waa-Mu show opening this weekend

78th Annual Waa-Mu Show a Musical Page Turner

 

Waa-Mu 2009: One for the Books,” Northwestern University’s 78th edition of the Waa-Mu show, will feature original songs, dances and comedy sketches based on the timeless tales of princesses, the adventures of Curious George, the trials of Holden Caulfield, and the poetry of e.e. cummings and Walt Whitman.

Under the direction of School of Communication Theatre Professor Dominic Missimi, this year’s Waa-Mu show will feature special guest appearances by such beloved fictional characters as Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Prince Charming, Rapunzel, the elusive Waldo, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Tarzan and Jane and many others. Missimi has directed Waa-Mu for the past 16 years, not including the two additional years he co-directed the show with former theatre faculty member and longtime Waa-Mu director Tom Roland.

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