Friday, June 1, 2012

From brutal Beckett to oafish Ionesco: new Reader performing arts reviews

Posted By on 06.01.12 at 09:39 AM

Trying out one of 3,628,800 possible outcomes in Bombs, Babes, and Bingo
  • Tom McGrath
  • Trying out one of 3,628,800 possible outcomes in Bombs, Babes, and Bingo

(Re)Discover Theatre turns audience discomfort into a virtue in An Evening of Beckett: Play, Not I, What Where, writes Jack Helbig. Ushers who test your hearing, inspect your cell phone, and curtly order you to your seat set the tone for the three plays that follow. The trio evoke Beckett's brutish ethos as they confront the horror of life. Existential despair is funnier but no less skillfully conveyed in Organic Theater's adaptation of the Melville story Bartleby the Scrivener. Organic's slapsticky portrayal of a dysfunctional law office captures both the humor and the hopelessness of Bartleby's stock phrase, "I would prefer not to."

You don't have to "get" Trap Door Theatre's Anger/Fly to appreciate it, says Tony Adler. The plotline about a perfect town gone berserk becomes secondary to a striking staging, rich sound design, and charismatic performances. Adler also likes A History of Everything, in which toys represent historical events (an aerosol can for Hurricane Katrina, an little airplane for 9/11) and time runs in reverse all the way back to the big bang.

The gimmick behind Bombs, Babes, and Bingo is inspired. But the story about a bomb maker recovering from a brain injury? Less so. A bingo ball randomizes the order of scenes, mirroring his disorganized thinking. Sean Graney's alternately ardent and irreverent Romeo Juliet seems sometimes to satirize teenage love. Then again, says Zac Thompson, it can feel like "Graney is riffing and remixing for the sake of riffing and remixing." Still, the final scene resonates emotionally.

The Promise may be historically significant, but that doesn't make it good. Aleksei Arbuzov's play represented a daring a step away from Soviet social realism when it premiered on Broadway in 1967. Still, the characters lack life and specificity. The characters in Bodies need fleshing out, as well. Too much remains offstage.

The cast of The Factory That Makes Devils has commitment issues, suggests Albert Williams: they fail to embrace the schlocky horror of Rory Leahy's ten vignettes. Instead, they act embarrassed by the silly dialogue and plots. The Jammer's cast could be snappier, too. Most of the actors can't even manage a decent New York accent. Fact & Fiction is trying to make a point about the mixture of falsehood and reality in everyone's life story, but ends up muddled due to uneven performances. And the Organic Theater staging of Eugene Ionesco's classic Rhinoceros has all the subtlety of its namesake animal. Running in repertory with the much more successful Bartleby the Scrivener (see above), the show offers little more than shouty interactions and a shlubby protagonist.

As difficult as it is with its intricate angles and rapid shifts of weight, says Laura Molzahn, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's U.S. premiere of Quintett promises to be architecturally exquisite. And the Chicago Women's Funny Festival makes a ballsy move by bringing 400 comedians to town just a week before the TBS Just for Laughs comedy extravaganza.

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