Sarah Hoch stars in Sweet Charity, MadKap Productions at the Skokie Theater. Photo by Kevin Mell.
The Coward (Stage Left Theatre at Theater Wit) is cute. I realize how much that sounds like damning with faint praise, but two things interfere with a more enthusiastic assessment: Stage Left’s own history of producing political work, and an inherent weakness in Nick Jones’s script which parodies Restoration comedy–itself a satire of the affectations and delusions of the privileged class.
To take these in order: while The Coward is faintly political–its plot involves the surviving son of a lord who resists dueling as the waste of time, effort and blood that it is, and said son’s efforts to maintain his anti-dueling principles in the face of social pressure–it hardly measures up to the powerful work the company has done in the past. The Coward comforts the comfortable too much–we, the 21st Century audience, would never be so foolish!
More significantly, as a parody of a satire, The Coward puts us at double remove from the characters. This not only encourages the audience to feel itself above the [literal] fray but encourages the actors to ham it up. Ham is fine–especially that of Kate Black-Spence, as the vain ingenue, and Spenser David as one of the anti-hero’s chums–but I like some bread with my meal. But the thing looks spectacular: kudos to costume and effects designer Aly Renee Amidei for her gorgeous 18th-Century duds. Through October 5.
MadKap Productions makes an astonishingly assured debut with Sweet Charity, the first production of its first subscription season at the Skokie Theatre. Under Andrew Park’s direction, this show–an early effort from Neil Simon–moves almost fast enough to conceal what a clunker the script is. Charity Hope Valentine, a dance-hall hostess, dreams of getting out of that business and finding true love. She has a series of adventures which don’t coalesce into an actual plot until late in Act One, and finally resolve unhappily. There are a couple of good songs–”If They Could See Me Now,” “Hey Big Spender”–but the show is mostly known, and revered, for having launched Gwen Verdon on the world dancing Bob Fosse’s steps. Likewise, this production should mostly be known and appreciated for launching Sara Hoch on Chicago theater dancing Robin Lehtman’s steps. Actually, everyone’s dancing is really strong, and the voices are really exceptional under Gary Powell’s music direction.
Opening night featured some microphone-related catastrophe which caused squeaking and thumping every time Charity moved (that’s the risk with body mikes); and, in a space the size of an old high-school auditorium, I don’t understand why the cast needs to be miked at all. If the orchestra is too loud (and it sometimes is), quiet it down, and let the singers go au naturel. Yes, I know that’s not what that means. Through September 28 at the Skokie Theatre–take Lincoln Avenue north until it dead-ends; the theater, an old movie-house, will be to your right about 100 paces.
Tony Fitzpatrick is both a visual artist and a monologuist who’s about to leave his native Chicago for New Orleans, and his friend Stan Klein is a tri-a-loguist, by which I mean he has three personas each of which reflects on itself and the others. As woven together smoothly by adapter-director Ann Filmer (artistic director of 16th Street Theater), with hypnotic video by Kristin Reeves and guitar and vocals by John Rice and Anna Fermin, the men’s meditations on how Chicago has changed as they have aged (or is it they who have changed?), lumped together under the title The Midnight City, are generally charming and occasionally hilarious. Fitzpatrick particularly has the gift of the superb insult: he refers to unpleasant people as “guys who use Preparation H for Chap-Stick.” The show is custom-designed to make us miss Fitzpatrick now that he’s going and wonder why we haven’t paid more attention to him up until now. I predict–as does Stan–that Tony will be back. Meanwhile, catch The Midnight City in the Steppenwolf Garage through October 19.