Review: Down & Dirty Romeo & Juliet (Shattered Globe)

  
  

Who will play your Romeo? Who will be your Juliet?

  
  

Dion Rice (Romeo) and Alice Pacyga (the Nurse) star in Shattered Globe Theatre’s interactive and ever-changing production of DOWN & DIRTY ROMEO & JULIET playing at various Chicago venues.  (Photo: Kevin Viol)

   
Shattered Globe Theatre presents
  
  
Down & Dirty Romeo & Juliet
   
   
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Roger Smart
at various Chicago locations (see below)
through July 17  |  tickets: $18   |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

‘Where art thou Romeo?’  Well, Juliet, last time I saw him, he was on the 94th floor of the Hancock….

Shattered Globe Theatre presents Down & Dirty Romeo & Juliet.  Shakespeare’s greatest love story ever told is being told in various locales around the city.  The Montagues and Capulets hate each other.  Their family feud is the town’s gang problem.  For fun, the Montagues crash the Capulets’ house party. It’s just a silly prank until Romeo falls hard for the host’s daughter.  But he’s not alone in enemy territory, Juliet is equally smitten.  Their forbidden love unites them in fatal ecstasy.  Christina Gorman (Lady Capulet) and Angie Shriner (Juliet) star in Shattered Globe Theatre’s interactive and ever-changing production of DOWN & DIRTY ROMEO & JULIET playing at various Chicago venues.  (Photo: Kevin Viol)The story is familiar.  The surroundings may not be.  Shattered Globe takes Shakespeare’s ‘all the world’s a stage’ to heart and hits the road.  Down & Dirty Romeo & Juliet is a classic to go!

The unique experience starts upon arrival.  At check-in, the audience must pick a side.  Each guest is literally labeled Montague or Capulet.  A cheat sheet of Shakespearian insults is issued to help the discord mood.  Guests are encouraged to concoct personalized abuse from piecing together four columns of choices.  My favorite is ‘grow unsightly warts thou puking maggot-pie.’  It’s all a part of a build-your-own-adventure theme.  Before the show starts, actors are introduced with their potential parts.  By applause and cheers, the audience decides on the starting line-up.  Roles are assigned and the action starts immediately.  There’s no curtain, stage or fourth wall separating the drama from reality.  The story unfolds in between tables.  Because they are wearing street clothes, it’s impossible to tell the actors from the audience. At the Capulet’s dance party, it’s a blur of family enemies and non-acting revelry.  The interactive experience is a surreal engagement. 

Under the direction of Roger Smart, the show is tightly paced professionalism. It’s an impressive surprise. The informality around the show, before it starts and during intermission, seems to indicate a more loose affair.  The charades-in-the-living-room comfy vibe is sidelined as the first line cues up the polished acting.  The Shakespearean prose is delivered with conversational passion. On the night I attended, the doomed lovers were Behzad Dabu (Romeo) and Melissa Nedell (Juliet). Dabu and Nedell have all the youthful innocence of love at first sight: charming, lusty, slightly clumsy flirtation. Their sweet synergy produces a hopeful optimism for a possible different story outcome. The entire cast fights, dances, dies with zesty commitment. Despite the obvious rehearsed mastery, there is still an improv twist.  An actor will interface with an audience member as in conversation or just by stealing a sip of beer.  During my performance, a young girl was coughing during Lord Capulet’s (Brad Woodward) monologue.  With a perfectly uttered ‘we are all dying’ line, Woodward cracks the house up.  Alice Pacyga (Nurse) is hilarious delivering some sass while chomping down at the refreshment table.

Dion Rice (Romeo) interacts with audience member (Balthasar) in Shattered Globe Theatre’s interactive and ever-changing production of DOWN & DIRTY ROMEO & JULIET playing at various Chicago venues. (Photo: Kevin Viol)The Hancock provided incomparable scenery to the Shakespearean tragedy. The sunset magnificently filled the room with a vibrant glow. Although missing its earlier line cue, the moon did finally rise beautifully over the lake. In the background, the city shimmered into its evening wear adding an urban enchantment. It looks stunning but it sounds not so attractive. The only issue with the Hancock locale is the noise level. The show utilizes the Observatory’s café for the production. It’s not closed to the non-theatre public. Unfortunately, the chatter is most distracting at very tender moments when the actors use softer voices. Because the tale is legendary, the issue doesn’t poison the overall effect. It just annoyingly stabs it… several times. Down & Dirty Romeo & Juliet is an entertaining one-of-a-kind theatrical experience…every show!

  
  
Rating: ★★★
    
   

Performance Times and Locations (more to come)

        
Monday, May 16th, 7:30pm
Hancock Observatory, 875 N. Michigan
Tickets only $3 
Buy Tickets
  Thursday, May 19th, 7:00 PM
The Spot, 4437 N. Broadway
Tickets: $18 
Buy Tickets
            
Sunday, May 22nd, 7:30pm 
Hancock Observatory, 875 N. Michigan  
Tickets: $18
Buy Tickets
  Tuesday, May 24th, 7:00pm
Schubas, 3159 N. Southport
Tickets $18
Buy tickets
       
Sunday, May 29th, 7:00pm
Justins, 3358 N. Southport  
Tickets: $18
Buy Tickets
   July 17th, 24th and 31st
Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph
Times and Tickets: TBA

Angie Shriner (Juliet) and Dion Rice (Romeo) star in Shattered Globe Theatre’s interactive and ever-changing production of DOWN & DIRTY ROMEO & JULIET playing at various Chicago venues. (Photo: Kevin Viol)Running Time:  Two hours and fifteen minutes includes an intermission

  
  

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Review: Erratica (The American Demigods)

     
     

Sex and Shakespeare for the scholastically inclined

     
     

Erratica at America Demigods, by Reina Hardy

   
American Demigods present
  
Erratica
  
Written by Reina Hardy
Directed by Dan Foss
at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
through May 14  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The American Demigods are working with one sharp and sassy script for their latest production at Second Stage Theatre. Dan Foss directs a taut, dynamically funny cast for Erratica, by Reina Hardy. An academic farce, Erratica brings brains and loins together with a typical dash of intellectual neurosis. Hardy, being the founder and Artistic Director of The Viola Project, which introduces young girls to Shakespeare, is eminently familiar with the academic field she spoofs. Her professorial protagonist, Dr. Samantha Stafford (Lisa Herceg), idolizes her subject, the Bard, to the rejection of all others. Yet she finds herself up to her eyeballs in moonstruck, mediocre student-poets, glib, scheming and mercenary publicists, and competitive colleagues who would also like to get into her pants. Even the ghost of Christopher Marlowe (David A scene from the American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.Wilhelm) desires her amorous, as well as academic, attention. But all the good doctor wants is love distilled to a purity of lived experience that matches Shakespeare’s sublime and ineffable lines.

Of course, no one can live up to that—but that doesn’t stop the puerile attempts of one of her students, Gregory, to woo her with his verse. We never get to see Gregory. But we do get a full on rant against Dr. Stafford from Elspeth (Victoria Bucknell), his defender, for rebuffing Gregory’s advances by savaging his poems. Though stuck on Gregory herself, Elspeth reviles the professor for reducing Gregory to cringing under the table at Commons “eating nothing but Triscuits and powdered Tang.” If Elspeth cannot have Gregory, she at least wants him to be happy in his own heart’s desire—something that absolutely dumbfounds the professor.

Against her wishes to be left alone, Stafford is pulled into an undertow of messy, hormonally-driven desire. Likewise, her desire for academic purity, such as the publication of her highly intellectual treatise on Shakespeare, meets with the mercenary side of publishing–represented by her leggy, fast-talking and devious publicist Lisa Milkmin (Kelly Yacono). Herceg charmingly delivers Stafford’s smart and sardonic exasperation down pat and, while Bucknell makes a classic comic foil with her character’s adolescent insecurity and Wilhelm bounces off her rebuffs of Marlowe with intelligent, roguish charm, nothing crackles as much as the showdown between professor and publicist. It’s style meets substance—and superficial style is definitely winning.

A scene from the American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.Lisa wants Stafford to shape her book into a “Shakespeare for the Cosmo girl.” But failing that, she pressures Stafford into translating the newly discovered “Quinberry Diaries,” a recent academic find of an Elizabethan trollop’s journals that has garnered intense notoriety and landed a career coup for the university’s head librarian, Dr. Hooper. “You’re pleading like an undergraduate,” Hooper smarmily quips once Stafford comes asking for the dairies, “that’s exciting.” If Hardy’s play has any flaws, it’s in the way her cerebral protagonist has to skirt sexual harassment moments like these to keep the whole play light and fluid. Foss’s direction simply drives the play forward and the mysterious theft of the Quinberry Diaries distracts from Hooper delivering even further unwanted sexual advances.

Likewise, for such a smart comedy, the play wraps up a little formulaically, with a character leaping from behind an arras to resolve the final entanglement or Stafford showing sudden sexual interest in Hooper where there was none before. All that can be said is that Hardy’s shrewd dialogue and Foss’s clean-cut direction takes the audience through the journey with zippy alacrity. So, savor the juicy conspiratorial scene between Elspeth and Lisa. Enjoy Stafford’s alcoholic binge breakdown, when she declares, “Vodka’s like black—it goes with everything.” Appreciate the quieter moments when Marlowe tries to get through to her. Life isn’t pure poetry. And that’s a good thing.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

The cast of American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.

     

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Review: The Madness of George III (Chicago Shakespeare)

  
  

The real King Lear

  
  

King George III (Harry Groener) and the royal family greet their subjects in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.

  
Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents
   
The Madness of George III
   
Written by Alan Bennett
Directed by Penny Metropulos
at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier (map)
thru June 12  |  tickets: $44-$75  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Talk about life imitating art. Like the fictional King Lear of Shakespeare’s harshest imagination, in the late 18th century King George III of the troubled House of Hanover descended into madness, then briefly emerged from it as he realized that a king is mortal and that others have suffered as much as he. He too had vicious offspring: two sons – the fat and foolish Prince of Wales, later George IV, and the foppish Duke of York – were every bit as ungrateful as Goneril and Regan (and he had no Cordelia to redeem the curse). George was temporarily “cured” by a tough-love regimen: A monarch who had never been contradicted in his life was restrained by strait-jackets and strapped to a chair like a thief in a pillory. If not worse, the treatment was as vicious as the malady.

Harry Groener as the ailing King George III and Ora Jones as his devoted Queen Charlotte in Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III. Photo by Peter Bosy.If Lear’s story is tragic, George’s is pathetic, so great is the gulf between his real illness (porphiria, a medical and not a mental degenerative disease) and the neo-medieval physicians who think the solution is just a question of bloodletting, poultices, and a daily inspection of the chamberpot. It’s too easy to say that George was unhinged by the ingratitude of his American subjects in daring to revolt—or that his peace of mind was subverted by parliamentary plots hatched by his enemies the Whigs (under the unscrupulous Charles Fox). (The government’s Tories, under William Pitt, were not above exploiting the addlepated king as he forfeited control over almost all his functions and functionaries.) His was a classic case of hubris: The body’s conditional state betrayed the monarch’s absolute power.

Alan Bennett’s much-praised 1991 dramatization of this unpleasantness (made into Nicholas Hytner’s superb 1994 film with Nigel Hawthorne as the humbled king) recalls Thomas Hogarth’s most vicious caricatures: It conjures up a dysfunctional dynasty as fraught with friction as any family and a political circus in which Whigs and Tories behave just as badly as our bad boys do in 2011, not 1785.

Penny Metropulos’ all-engrossing staging is a marvel of perpetual motion. Its energy is coiled and concentrated in Tony-nominee Harry Groener’s piledriving performance in the dual title role (the madness as much as the king). In this awesome fall from grace we watch the symbol of the then-world’s greatest empire lose authority as he does his bowels, brain and locomotion. The well-named Groener makes us feel his pain in each particular (and Bennett is nothing if not graphic in his depiction of a body breaking down).

The king’s sole help comes from Ora Jones’ magnificent Queen Charlotte, George’s fearlessly loyal, unjustly neglected wife, his faithful equerries (Kevin Gudahl and Erik Hellman), and his principled and frustrated prime minister (Nathan Hosner). All do legion work above and beyond every theatrical expectation.

     
King George III (Harry Groener) celebrates his recovery with his devoted Queen Charlotte (Ora Jones) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren. King George III (Harry Groener, center) handles government affairs with Prime Minister William Pitt (Nathan Hosner, far left) as Fortnum (Mark D. Hines) awaits orders, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.
King George III (Harry Groener) embraces his straitjacket as he struggles to regain control of his mind in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren. Queen Charlotte (Ora Jones) warns her ailing husband, King George III (Harry Groener), of his government's impending plan to revoke his political powers, as Captain Fitzroy (Kevin Gudahl, center) and Captain Greville (Erik Hellman, left) look on, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.

As devious as the disease that wracks the king, Richard Baird plays his heir with odious opportunism, matched by Alex Weisman as his corrupt and corpulent younger brother. David Lively’s Lord Chancellor is amusingly caught in the crossfire between both factions, while the four doctors (Brad Armacost, Patrick Clear, William Dick and James Newcomb) display a cornucopia of ignorance that Moliere would envy.

The near-three hours fly by as pell-mell conflicts ebb and seethe under William Bloodgood’s immense Palladian portico. Its most telling moment is when a recovering George experiences the only good treatment he received: He plays a dying King Lear, suddenly realizing that another man wrote about and an imaginary one felt his plight. That, of course, was to know how powerless you are when fate toys with you and your own body turns on you worse than any enemies could imagine. You feel like a voyeur as you watch this scatological and scandalous story unfold, but you can’t take your eyes away for an instant.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Suspecting a plot to dethrone him, King George III (Harry Groener) attacks his son, the Prince of Wales (Richard Baird), attended by Dr. Richard Warren (Patrick Clear, left), as Queen Charlotte (Ora Jones, right) rushes to quell him and the Duke of York (Alex Weisman) tumbles to escape the fray, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.

All photos by Liz Lauren and Peter Bosy.

     

 

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Review: The Buzz that Is the Buzz (Curious Branch Theatre)

     
     

Mighty mind blowing

     
     

The Buzz That Is the Buzz - Curious Branch Theatre

   
Curious Theatre Branch presents
  
The Buzz That Is the Buzz
   
Written and Directed by Beau O’Reilly
at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston (map)
through April 10  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Heaven only knows what to make of The Buzz That Is the Buzz–or why it all hangs together as well as it does. Is it the fun of riffing on bad guys, whether they’re the most treacherous of villains, like Shakespeare’s’ Richard the Third or the old-style street thugs with a lingo all their own? Is it the play’s oddball mix of slackers/hipsters with down-and-out private eyes and excessively specialized gay shopkeepers? Curious Theatre Branch has brought a lot of curious avant garde things to light but Beau O’Reilly’s world premiere play gives audiences a hallucinogenic trip where every odd move and play on words fits just right and gels into a funky seamless whole. Then again—maybe it’s those damn chickens, freaky harbingers of guilt and doom and just plain freakiness. Idiot chickens!

Based on a play that was never written, a collaboration between O’Reilly and William Shakespeare called “The Doom In the Bud,” The Buzz That Is the Buzz pursues the aftermath of the evil deeds of Lord Agit (Jayita Bhattacharya), which are twice performed by the cast in shadow pantomime form. O’Reilly’s utilizes movement and shadow theater not only to underscore the work’s random, dreamlike theatricality but also to distance the audience from the characters they are seeing. Lord Agit quotes lines from Richard the Third with self-conscious, almost cartoon-style villainy. But Bhattacharya’s portrayal cannot be received any more heavily than Matt Rieger’s interpretation of Con, a gangster and hit man with a sense of beat poetry about everything he observes. Con’s accompanied by his muscle, Randy (played with tight-jawed hilarity by Beau O’Reilly), who’s obsessive pre-occupation with safety forms its own safety hazard.

Both old school Chicago gangsters are followed by Benny Benjamin (Brian Collins), a cop turned private detective, who’s face was burned in a fire set by Con after he’d dispatched two lives on Lord Agit’s commission. Benny follows the thugs through their various wanderings, as they make contact with people far outside their world–therapists, gay shopkeepers and hip youngsters taking their first crack at selling a drug called “the mighty mind blow.” It turns out that Lord Agit has her origins in the mighty mind blow and that the whole of the world of the play just might have its origins there, too.

More than anything else, the work is a kaleidoscopic interplay of words and movement and images—and somehow, in some mysterious part of the medulla oblongata, it all comes together brilliantly. Evil and its consequences and regret meet with curiosity, dialogue and a bit of healing power to connect. Most of O’Reilly’s characters are haunted; those damn chickens especially haunt Lord Agit, but the mad whirlwind of friends and strangers strangely juxtaposed with each other goes on. I suppose just the fact that they’re talking to each other at all is a celebration of a more hopeful world than the one we’ve usually got.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Artists

Cast

Kelly Anchors, Jayita Bhattacharya, Brian Collins, Courtney Kearney, Stephen Lehman, Beau O’Reilly, Matt Rieger & Jordan Stacey

Production

Beau O’Reilly (director); Joseph Riley (set design); Diane Hamm (costumes & masks).

  
  

Review: Romeo and Juliet (Babes With Blades)

  
  

A tale of lovers missing its heart

  
  

Gillian N. Humiston (Romeo) and Ashley Fox (Juliet) in Babes With Blades' Romeo and Juliet

  
Babes With Blades presents
  
Romeo & Juliet
       
Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by Brian DeLuca
at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map)
through April 30  |  tickets: $20   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Babes With Blades has pulled out the production stops for a visually strong and sumptuous all-woman Romeo & Juliet. The rough around the edges, yet classically suggestive scene design (Bill Anderson; Jason Pikscher and Stephen Carmody, brickwork) graces Raven Theatre’s studio space with a versatility that still hints at architectural grandeur. Meanwhile, Ricky Lurie’s costumes, inspired by Italy’s late 19th-century Liberal Period, imaginatively strike the production’s gender-bending balance—functional enough to readily support the cast for their legendary BWB combat scenes and convey class distinctions and individual character.

Eleanor Katz and Amy Harmon - Babes With Blades' Romeo and JulietThen there’s the always-exciting stage combat (Libby Beyreis), in which the gals pack swords, rapiers and pistols into the street warfare between the Capulets and the Montagues. Brian DeLuca’s directorial vision suggests cyclically repeating historical patterns of social and legal breakdown—a solid and sophisticated touch for revisioning Shakespeare’s classic tale of star-crossed lovers.

All the same, there’s no substitute for classical Shakespearean training and experience, especially so far as Romeo (Gillian N. Humiston) and Juliet (Ashley Fox) are concerned. Humiston’s performance is weak to begin with, but as death stalks the lovers and emotional stakes are raised, her performance degenerates into shrill and unwatchable histrionics. Fox fairs better when paired with her Nurse (Eleanor Katz) or facing up to an implacable parent, Capulet (Maggie Kettering), determined to marry her off to Paris (Delia Ford). Shakespeare’s tale of impossible, adolescent love struggling to find expression in a landscape strafed by turf wars needs stronger stars than this show has on hand. Sadly, an otherwise thoughtful and well-paced production misses out at its critical center.

Gillian N. Humiston and Delia Ford in a fight scene from Babes With Blades' 'Romeo and Juliet'Ford JK 7381

That leaves the older cast members to carry the show. By far, Katz delivers the strongest, earthiest, most nuanced performance; Kettering’s Capulet is a force to be reckoned with and Katie Horwitz as Friar Lawrence comes across solidly like a frustrated surrogate parent, trying to keep the kids on track long enough to have it all work out. Amy Harmon has the swagger to give her Mercutio street cred, but could use a little refinement on his monologues. Shakespeare knew that lower class didn’t always mean lower IQ, and Mercutio’s accelerated imagination and verbal agility would make him a rap star if he were discovered today.

Fox and Humiston do pull off their final death scene together but, by the time they do, the audience has missed the heart of the story for too long. Romeo & Juliet was spawned from an era of real traditional marriage—from a time when marriages were set up like business partnerships. What did love have to do with it? Shakespeare’s audience came to see pure, unbridled love daring to violate social constraints. But in the world of art, we know it takes massive skill and discipline to make it that love look raw, spontaneous, free and new.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Gillian N. Humiston and Ashley Fox as Romeo and Juliet, presented by Babes With Blades

 

Artists

Cast

Gillian N. Humiston*, Ashley Fox, Megan Schemmel, Delia Ford*, Amy E. Harmon*, Eleanor Katz, Maggie Kettering, Katie Horwitz, Rachael Miller, and Kim Fukawa*. 

Production Team

Brian LaDuca (Director); Wyatt Kent (Assistant Director); Bill Anderson (Scenic Design ); Leigh Barrett* (Lighting Design ); Libby Beyreis* (Violence Design); Ricky Lurie (Costume Design); Harrison Adams (Sound Design); Kjers McHugh* (Stage Manager); Dustin Spence (Producer).

* = Company member

  
  

Review: The Merchant of Venice (Broadway in Chicago)

  
  

Centuries later, Shakespeare’s message still rings true

  
  

Tom Nelis, Lucas Hall, F. Murray Abraham - Merchant of Venice

  
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
The Merchant of Venice
  
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
at
Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through March 27  |  tickets: $23-$75  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Putting Shakespeare’s plays in a contemporary setting often produces mixed results, and Darko Tresnjak’s corporate take on The Merchant of Venice finds both its strengths and weaknesses in its modern context. The national tour of the 2007 Off-Broadway production, Merchant of Venice stars Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham in the role of Shylock, a chilling portrayal of a man trampled by an oppressive society on a malicious quest for justice. The contemporary context is used by Tresnjak to expand the story beyond Shakespeare’s words, and the social, economic, and political changes of the last 400 years give the script new meaning, particularly with Shylock’s character. The set design is sleek and tech-heavy, the men Jacob Ming-Trent - Merchant of Venicewear three-piece suits, and Portia’s (Kate MacCluggage) caskets are MacBooks that unlock with a USB key, yet the concept never takes over under Tresnjak’s crisp, focused staging. The two main plotlines – the first centralized on Shylock and his socioeconomic troubles, the second on Portia’s romantic exploits – are balanced and grounded by the strength of their principal performances, and together create a story that resonates on both a global and personal level.

The show begins with the title character Antonio (Tom Nelis) in a state of melancholy. As his friends deduce the source of his pain to be his heart, Bassanio (Lucas Hall) arrives to ask Antonio for money so that he can travel to Belmont and woo Portia, earning her sizable inheritance in the process. Scholars have long speculated the romantic relationship between Antonio and Bassanio, and Tresnjak and Nelis interpret Antonio as a closeted older businessman utterly devoted to the object of his affection. The corporate environment gives new meaning to the casting, with Antonio serving in a CEO position while Bassanio and friends make up the junior executives, with Gratiano (Ted Schneider) as the office drunk for good measure. Antonio’s work relationship with Bassanio prevents their relationship as much as social pressures, and when he lets his affections for his friend overrule his business judgment, he ends up on trial with a pound of his flesh on the scales of justice.

Meanwhile, Portia and her waiting-woman Nerissa (Christen Simon Marabate) compare Portia’s various suitors on an iPhone, awaiting the next batch to pick from the three “caskets” of lead, silver, and gold. The two actresses have great chemistry, and MacCluggage’s Portia is so powerful that the moments where she can unwind with Nerissa are a treat. Both actresses use the verse beautifully, and they avoid some of the problems that come up elsewhere in the production as actors modernize the language. One instance where the modernization works is with Launcelot Gobbo (Jacob Ming-Trent), Shylock’s stoner assistant that turns Shakespeare’s words into slam poetry, and his fantastic “fiend” monologue is a highlight of the first act.

Bassanio uses Antonio’s credit to acquire a loan from Shylock, a Jewish lender, who despises Antonio’s anti-Semitism and lends the 3,000 ducats on the condition that if the bond is not repaid in the specified time, a pound of flesh will be taken from Antonio in lieu of interest. The corporate setting increases the intensity of the scene where Shylock and Antonio agree to the bond, and Tresnjak uses Shakespeare’s language as a kind of boardroom code, with Elizabethan poetry acting as a form of subversive power play. The modern setting changes the character of Shylock in profound ways, especially considering the struggles of the Jewish people over the last century. This Shylock lives in a post-Holocaust world, fully aware of the devastating damage caused by the irrational fears and prejudices of others. His devotion to his spirituality doesn’t fit in with Antonio’s corporate vision, and his treatment becomes a symbol for the ways in which traditional religious views are being forgotten in modern age. When Shylock’s daughter Jessica (Melissa Miller) elopes with Lorenzo (Vince Nappo), an associate of Antonio’s, Shylock loses his stoic demeanor, maliciously going after his promised pound of flesh when Antonio’s ships are lost at sea.

     
Kate MacCluggage, Christen Simon Marabate - Merchant of Venice Lucas Hall, Tom Nelis, Background - Kate MacCluggage - Merchant of Venice
Vince Nappo, Melissa Miller - Merchant of Venice Kate MacCluggage, F. Murray Abraham - Merchant of Venice

The drama of the Shylock plot is balanced by the humor of Portia’s, and as her suitors choose between the three caskets to find the one with her picture inside, she anxiously awaits the arrival of Bassanio. The suitors are hit and miss, with Raphael Nash Thompson’s towering Moroccan dictator inspiring laughs through his quiet, yet exaggerated aggression, while Christopher Randolph’s lisping Prince of Arragon is too over-the-top and ends up falling flat. Bassanio arrives and picks the right casket, but their celebration is cut short when he learns that Antonio is in prison, awaiting trial for not paying Shylock. Portia offers to pay off the bond times two, and then dresses up like a man with Nerissa and devises a plan to save Antonio from Shylock’s wrath. The image of Antonio in an orange jumpsuit calls to mind real world images of white-collar inmates in prison for their economic deviances, and without the corporate environment Antonio is able to act on his desire for Bassanio. The trial scene is a break neck race to the finish, as Abraham explodes with fury, the years of degradation finally breaking him and forcing him to vengeful action. Then Portia sees Antonio and Bassanio kiss, and the tension skyrockets as she forgets about the mercy she preached earlier. It all comes crashing down on poor Shylock, and his final moments on stage are heartbreaking, stripped of his yarmulke, his daughter, and his dignity.

The Portia plot resolves in typical Shakespeare romance fashion, with the characters misunderstanding each other until they finally end up in handy little pairs, but the emphasis on Antonio and Bassanio ends the play on a bittersweet note. Despite the occasional misstep with the comedic aspects, mostly with jokes that don’t have any scriptural basis and are tech-based, the direction reveals aspects of the play that give it new relevance in modern times. Proving that despite the changes in culture, the fundamental messages of Shakespeare’s plays are still applicable to contemporary issues.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Christen Simon Marabate, Andrew Dahl, Kate MacCluggage, Raphael Nash Thompson, Melissa Miller, Lucas Hall and Christopher Randolph. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

     

All photos by Gerry Goodstein.

     
     

Review: Hamlet (DreamLogic TheatreWorks)

     
     

An ambitious Shakespeare in promenade style

     
    

Jack Sharkey as Hamlet and Meg Elliott as Gertrude, DreamLogic TheatreWorks, Chicago

  
DreamLogic TheatreWorks presents
   
Hamlet
   
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Scott McKinsey
at Gunder Mansion, 6219 N. Sheridan (map)
thru March 5  |  tickets: $30 (w/ open bar) |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

His father was murdered. His mother married the killer. His girlfriend is playing hard-to-get. Why so glum Hamlet? DreamLogic TheatreWorks presents Hamlet, performed in promenade. Hamlet is in mourning. His uncle/step-dad wants hit him to snap out of it. His mom struggles to soothe her husband’s and her son’s mood swings. His girlfriend’s father assesses that Hamlet is a nut job. At her dad’s insistence, Ophelia breaks it off with Hamlet. Despite seeing a ghost, contemplating suicide, and being dumped, Hamlet is focused on getting his uncle to admit to the assassination. He contracts a traveling theatre troupe to perform a play of deception and betrayal. In between sniping at his ex, Hamlet observes the discomfort of his Paul Chakrin as Claudius, Meg Elliott as Gertude and Alexis Meuche as Ophelia in DreamLogic TheatreWorks' 'Hamlet' at Gunder Mansion.uncle’s theatre experience. The show doesn’t quite have Hamlet’s anticipated happy ending. His uncle admits only one thing, like father like son, death is the simple solution. The body count rises as life spirals into a stabbing-drowning-poisoning-stabbing fatal distraction. Presented in promenade, DreamLogics’ Hamlet is Shakespeare in your face, by your side, and behind your back.

A promenade theatrical experience puts the audience on stage. The technique has theatre-goers physically follow the activity from room to room. Set in the Gunder Mansion, DreamLogic utilizes the main floor, including the foyer and the front door. It starts in darkness. The cast is wearing contemporary street clothing. It’s hard to tell the actors from the audience. Flashlights and door pounding provide gripping chaos. The intrigue engages immediately and continues through a thrilling and potentially dangerous swordfight. Being feet, and sometimes inches, away from the action makes it personal. It’s like going to someone’s house for a dinner- murder theme party but with no dinner. (There is, however, an open bar.) Depending on your position…literally, observing the smallest gesture broadens the character’s persona. Gertrude pats her husband’s arm to shush his drunken pontification. Polonius crushes Ophelia’s love life and then patronizingly kisses her on the head. Gertrude and Claudius giggle like newlyweds. The talented cast promotes the virtual reality Shakespearean experience.

Director Scott McKinsey broadens the focal point of the scene to all the characters in the room. Without the fourth wall separation, characters are unable to melt into the scenery. They are constantly on. With the aid of clothing and closeness, the Shakespeare prose becomes conversational with subtle nuances teased out. A stand-out, Rob Glidden (Polonius) gives a blow hard delivery that is hysterical. Glidden is such a dad! Glidden lectures his son about money and his daughter about giving-it-away-for-free. Out of his paternal arena, he bumbles at court with delightful buffoonery. Jack Sharkey (Hamlet) keeps it real. Sharkey’s choices make Hamlet a recognizable guy. Sharkey rants in desperate betrayal and rejection. Sharkey is a hothead haunted by his dad’s ghost and his own honor. Either because of the vicinity or the humanity, Sharkey may be the most authentic Hamlet I’ve ever seen. Other especially poignant performances are a heart-wrenching Ophelia (Alexis Meuche), a maternally torn Gertrude (Meg Elliott) and shiver-inducing ghost/drunkenly disturbing Claudius (Paul Chakrin).

Shakespeare done in promenade is an ambitious undertaking. The classic verse doesn’t lend easily to an intimate experience. Plus, especially in Hamlet, the plays are long! Three hours standing is a challenge. To alleviate any discomfort, DreamLogic has benches and chairs in each room for a momentary respite. The occasional squat combined with comfortable shoes help make it less murderous on the audience. DreamLogic TheatreWork’s Hamlet is a classic and unique entertainment experience.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Paul Chakrin as Claudius and Nick Goodman as Laertes in DreamLogic's 'Hamlet' at the Gunder Mansion.

Running Time: Three hours with a ten minute intermission

  
  

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