Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

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

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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 »

Review: Cherry Smoke/The Side Project Theatre Company

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Dan Toot and Emily Shain/Photo: Anna Bahow

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Fish (Dan Toot) is a rage-a-holic boxer, taught to “punch till ya can’t punch no more, then keep punching.” But he finds calm with Cherry (Emily Shain), a runaway who lives “around.” Both are survivors of unthinkable abuse rooted in crushing poverty.

James McManus’ script combines the poetry of the everyday with the hardscrabble life of a working class without work. He hits a couple of clinkers when the language overwhelms the scenario, but still manages to create a gorgeous, imaginative world.

Toot captures Fish’s anger and aggression; he is bark and bite. Shain’s Cherry longs for magic and creates it with her love. Peter Oyloe  brings a gentle dignity to Duffy, Fish’s brother, who has mastered the serenity needed to survive, drawing strength from his wife Bug (Jessica London-Shields) a midwife who longs to create life herself. It’s a strong ensemble that creates rich, fully formed performances. (Lisa Buscani)

The Side Project Theatre Company, 1439 West Jarvis, (773)973-2150. Through December 19.

Review: Extinction Fantasies: Two Apocalyptic Romances/Tympanic Theatre Company

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Even amidst total ruination, sometimes there are still more important things at hand. In Daniel Caffrey’s new play “Extinction Fantasies” for his Tympanic Theatre Company, three pairs of characters from a small town struggle to survive after a deadly plague has wiped out the local population, and the only way out, an old bridge, has been demolished. What emerges is a series of intimate moments between people who have nothing else to lose, yet therefore everything to gain. In “Dark Horse,” two high-school students, both of whose parents are dead, find in each other the strength they need to keep surviving. In “The Deer Callers,” a married couple fights to resolve fidelity issues that haunted their pre-plague life. And in “Fevers” and “Fever Dreams,” a father and daughter share stories as the father draws painfully closer to death. The actors all find plenty of emotional action to play in scenes that are largely conversational, and humor, presumably a necessary ingredient of post-apocalyptic survival, keeps afloat with levity a thoughtful, meandering play. (Neal Ryan Shaw)

Tympanic Theatre Company at The Side Project, 1439 W. Jarvis, (773)442-2882, through July 18.

Review: People We Know/the side project theatre company

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Kirsten D’Aurelio and Robert Koon/Photo: Marni Keenan

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A teacher is arrested for inappropriately touching a student. His wife and friends wonder who the man they thought they knew actually is; simultaneously, they discover gaps and misfires in their own relationships. Robert Tenges’ script is full of vulnerability, pain and love the couples struggle to maintain.

The ensemble’s appealing naturalism is perfect for the tiny space; each performer manages an intimate one-on-one with the audience. Andy Hager’s mellow record-store manager is awash in goofy gentleness; Elizabeth Bagby’s hard-driving wife arouses both distaste and sympathy in her attempts to break away. Amy Johnson and Kirsten D’Aurelio infuse their longtime friendship with an enviable sweetness and loyalty. Robert Koon and C. Sean Piereman both display a self-centered sleaziness.

Adam Webster’s direction peels away emotional layers as the show progresses and gives the piece a cool complexity, showing us that no one knows anyone really, not all that well. (Lisa Buscani)

the side project theatre company, 1439 West Jarvis, (773)973-2150. Through June 6.

Review: The Artist Needs a Wife/the side project

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Chris Hainsworth and Allison CainA frustrated painter replaces his aging muse with an Eastern European mail-order bride from a catalogue his washed-up DJ roommate masturbates to. If this show could hit all the notes of dark comedy it attempts, it would be a terrifically acerbic twist on its indulgent trope on the artist and the muse. As it is, “The Artist Needs a Wife” isn’t quite controlled or consistent enough to make it clear how seriously we’re supposed to take the production. Jesse Weaver’s play reels between sincere, moving conversations about aging and regret and hysterical screaming matches and cheesy choreographed fight scenes that make the show occasionally seem like a farce. The problem seems to lie in the writing—is it impossible for playwrights to address art-making without some immoderation?—and not in the acting, which is remarkable. Allison Caine in particular transcends her role as “Whore,” the rejected and vengeful first muse, digging deep for a performance of powerlessness that’s far more mature than the story. (Monica Westin)

At the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis, (773)973-2150. Through February 14.