Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Push Button Murder/the side project

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Meredith Lyons and Andrew Bailes/Photo: Scott Dray

Meredith Lyons and Andrew Bailes/Photo: Scott Dray


Steve J. Spencer’s “Push Button Murder” starts out as a slice-of-life play, telling the tale of two bored drone pilots on a long shift doing surveillance around the world from their remote underground bunker. Its pacing reflects their boredom. Becky (Meredith Rae Lyons) and Roy (Derek Garza) sit at aging computer consoles while determining whether to drop death from above on unsuspecting people elsewhere.

One “elsewhere” is actually just a few miles away in neighboring Pennsylvania (the bunker is located in Ohio). Stacy (portrayed fervently by Amy Johnson) is a recently laid-off teacher who through her enthusiastic support of protests has grown into a potential domestic terrorist.

As more and more drones are put in the sky, this play asks us to look at the ease with which they can be used to kill; at the moral ambiguity of killing from a distance; and the lines that blur when considering who to target and where. Read the rest of this entry »

From Beau Sides Now: Rhino’s O’Reilly Looks at the Good and Bad of Life on Chicago’s Fringe

Festivals, Profiles, Theater No Comments »

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By Raymond Rehayem

“Go Fuck Yourself” is surely the most provocatively titled of the five Beau O’Reilly one-acts featured in the 26th Annual Rhinoceros Theater Festival. O’Reilly got a surprising reaction when he brought the idea to his theater company. “I expected everybody to go, ‘God, this is terrible! You can’t do this, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot’,” explains O’Reilly. “That’s not what happened: the majority of people who read the play thought, ‘This is the best thing you’ve ever written.’”

In the play, the co-founder of Curious Theatre Branch portrays a mean old actor/writer whose work grows increasingly short until “finally he’s doing this piece called ‘Go Fuck Yourself’ where that’s the only line in the play. It’s extremely satirical about making theater in the Chicago fringe. It’s mean, and it’s nasty, and it’s silly, and it’s funny. It’s mean-funny. Over the past five or six years, I’m consciously writing to what’s funny about the uncomfortable situation. For a long time, I was just writing the uncomfortable situation. And then I realized I liked it better when it was funny.”

Having helped helm Chicago’s longest running fringe festival all these years, O’Reilly is entitled to assail the scene. Asked to also define it, he first points to one frequent Rhino contributor’s aversion to the term. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hello Failure/the side project

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Amy Johnson, Amanda Lipinski, J. Kingsford Goode, Julia Daubert, Kirsten D’Aurelio/Photo: Scott Dray

Amy Johnson, Amanda Lipinski, J. Kingsford
Goode, Julia Daubert, Kirsten D’Aurelio/Photo: Scott Dray

I’ll take the plunge and just say it: everyone’s got a sinking feeling in this play about military wives of submariners. There’s an encounter group full of them who meet at a submarine history museum. They vent about their jobs, complain about the people they meet, long for their husbands and occasionally cough up the true confession. Aside from the new girl (Amanda Lipinski), not one of them has a buoyant soul. They’re all quite desolate and looking to place the blame on just about anyone other than their husbands who are off serving the USA.

Elsewhere, their fellow sufferer Rebecca (Meg Elliot)—who is willing to place the blame on her absent spouse—languishes in her bathroom while penning missives to long dead Confederate Horace Hunley (Nate White), underwater pioneer and developer of early hand-powered submarines. Arriving to alleviate some of Rebecca’s misery—though in occasionally aggressive, angry tones—the Hunley character is the comic relief for the bathroom scenes. While across town—and across the well-utilized small stage of Side Project—the women in the support group get some laughs even at their most dour moments, their Prisoner of Woe pal Rebecca isn’t the slightest bit humorous. The tub in which she wallows may not have a drop in it, but she’s fully submerged in a murky swamp of self-pity and delusion from the moment we meet her. If she had any more self-awareness, she’d recognize Hunley’s appearance as her chance to either finally drown or instead come up for air. Lacking any such perspective, she needs a concerned visit from the other ladies to actually see what’s going on in and around her. It’s interesting that these women are all put upon by the patriotic endeavors of their Naval hubbies but the only military man they or we see or hear from is a traitor trying to save the day. Interesting, but wholly unaddressed or even remarked upon. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: What to Listen For/the side project theatre company

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Aram Monisoff and Holly Allen/Photo: Scott Dray

Aram Monisoff and Holly Allen/Photo: Scott Dray

Just entering the tiny side project theater feels like an intrusion on somebody’s private space. The lack of separation between the single row of seats and the bedroom stage creates a sense of claustrophobic voyeurism. It is as though we are situated inside Margaret (Holly Allen) and her daughter Hannah (Julia Rose Duray), looking not at them, but rather through their eyes.

Such intense introspection works beautifully for an artist like Samuel Beckett, an allegorist of alienation and existential isolation. In lesser hands, this absolute subjectivity sooner or later dissolves into a ponderous self-indulgence.

This is the case, sadly, with the side project’s world premiere of Kathleen Tolan’s “What to Listen For,” a dream-play about… what, exactly? Hard to say, as the playwright never grounds the events or characters in a coherent, developed story, theme or context. All we know is that wannabe musician Margaret and talented but conflicted violinist Hannah are estranged, that their differences stem from a love-hate relationship with classical music, and that they both seek solace and answers from a series of dead white men—notably, Arnold Schoenberg (James Munson), Sigmund Freud (Andrew Bailes), Gustav Mahler (Aram Monisoff) and Glenn Gould (David Prete). These historical personages appear in the flesh, as shadow projections, and in the case of Mahler, as a rod puppet skipping along the tiny cardboard mountains of his native Bohemia. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sandalwood/Tympanic Theatre Company and the side project

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Sandalwood_001_WEBCreators want the best for the things they make; every song composed should win a Grammy, every book can be the great American novel. Given that artists always dream big, it’s a bitter disappointment when an impulse evolves into something they hadn’t planned on. Just ask a screenwriter.

A carpenter (a suitably laconic Sean Thomas) tracks down his creation (livewire Anthony Stamilio) through the rough-n-tumble West. After drinkin’, lovin’ and killin’, the carpenter’s puppet has become human, leaving a trail of devastation in his wake. Pinocchio’s a real boy, and that ain’t good.

Thomas’ sadness captures the horror his work wracks up and Stamilio’s goofy energy belies the devastation his character leaves behind. A revulsion-tinged monologue from Jillian Rea creepily communicates what it’s like to be the object of this creature’s affections. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mishap!/Akvavit Theatre

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Joe Giovannetti and Breahan Eve Pautsch/Photo: Sooz Main

Joe Giovannetti and Breahan Eve Pautsch/Photo: Sooz Main

Billed as a psychological thriller, “Mishap!” is a mannered but engaging rumination on human relations, contrasting the genuinely dramatic tragedies and complexities of family life with the glib shenanigans of morning-news television programming. Or does it contrast cliched realities of the personal lives of public figures with the laughably melodramatic flourishes of soap operas? Presented in its U.S. premiere by Akvavit Theatre as the final installment of their “Nordic Cycle,” Bjarni Jónsson’s short and spirited play jumps back and forth over the line between public and private life, all the while spotlighting the confined theatrical setting used to great effect by director Chad Eric Bergman and his cast who seem always in uneasily close proximity to each other. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Elsewhere/The Side Project

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Photo: Susan McMillen

Photo: Susan McMillen

The sixties is a decade rife with fictional opportunity. The example du jour on television is “Mad Men” with its cigarette-smoke clouds and ream upon ream of red velour, but the powder-keg decade is awfully prevalent on the stage too. And it’s no wonder. Besides the umpteen movements that kicked into high gear during the swinging sixties, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Kennedy were watershed moments in American history—fuel for the raging fire, political and social, that’s come to characterize the moment.

On stage, it’s a decade of self-awareness. With one foot firmly planted in the values of the fifties and another tiptoeing toward the freight-train modernization of the seventies, characters in 1960s dramas can set their watches to the tides of change. For them, the struggle comes from coping with those impending changes or stalwartly fighting back. Sister Aloysius in John Patrick Shanley’s 1964-set “Doubt” clings like a barnacle to the pre-Vatican II days before her husband’s death at war, majorly complicating her suspicions toward a progressive priest; the 1967 rock-musical “Hair” sees a facsimile of flower-child Claude Hooper Bukowski’s mother, “1947,” call him “1967”—“What is it, 1967, that makes you so damn superior?”—before he spells out their generational differences in “I Got Life.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Lady M./The Side Project

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Photo: Scott Dray

Photo: Scott Dray

Do not go into “Lady M.” expecting a dramatically re-imagined “Macbeth.” “Lady M.” is, as a script, a rearrangement of the original text, a reprise without many new chords. Director Laley Lippard’s interest in the text is largely vocal, invested in the language of the original play and not in creative imaginings of the possibilities for the text. Inspiration for “Lady M.” comes from within “Macbeth” rather than from any genius outside Shakespeare. The adaptation of the piece re-sequences scenes from the original to create a Lady Macbeth-influenced perspective, but does not delve into the consciousness of that regal rage. Rather, we see the guise of madness through the energetic acting of Kristi Webb without a textual dive into the void. Elements that the director contributes to the stage seem clichéd and somewhat used up, such as surgical masks and overly boisterous buddy-buddy embracing. Even props seem to be an issue, as imagined and actual props appeared as a mixed bag without rhyme or reason.
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Review: Sugarward/The Side Project

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Codrington DadSpeech“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” not to mention the much less holy head that governs in the name of the crown. I believe that little piece of Shakespearean wisdom sits at the core of Sean Graney’s new play “Sugarward,” which opened on Saturday night at The Side Project, but I cannot be entirely sure. Frankly, I am still somewhat perplexed as to the play’s plot, which is unbelievably convoluted and directionless for such an intimate, two-person (four-character) comedy-drama. The playwright’s laborious, heightened speech detailing a smattering of issues of eighteenth-century British imperialism—the morality of slavery, the limitations of the governorship, the Triangular Trade—is impossibly difficult to follow and hard to enjoy. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cut to the Quick—On Location/the side project

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Photo: Anna C. Bahow


The best plays break down easily to the basics: characters, conflict and the truth. the side project’s site-specific latest is light on frills, but heavy on what’s important: the basics.

Artistic director Adam Webster’s creative tribute to Jarvis Square, the group’s home for the last ten years, “Cut to the Quick” places six short plays in local storefronts. Sometimes it works; “Ceremony” uses Charmer’s coffee shop effectively, detailing the efforts of newly minted stepbrothers Cory (baby-faced Ty Baumann) and James (a frat-a-licious yet truly creepy Dillon Kelleher) to bond. Read the rest of this entry »

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