Category Archives: The Hypocrites

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In brief: Guardians at Mary-Arrchie and American Idiot by The Hypocrites

Mary-Arrchie may be beginning its final season but there’s nothing to suggest it’s slacking off.  Rather, with its production of Guardians by Peter Morris, tersely directed by Arianna Soloway, the company reconfirms for the 30th year its standing as a place where drama and social justice go hand in hand.

The play is a pair of intertwined monologues, one delivered by the female soldier who appeared in the Abu Ghraib prison photos (“American Girl,” the flawless Jaci Entwistle) and the other by a British journalist (“English Boy” Adam Soule, persuasively self-satisfied and creepy) who stands in for the anonymous member of the press who staged an Abu-Ghraib-like scene and published the pictures in the tabloids before they were discovered to be a hoax.  They never interact and their stories never intersect, but they’re talking about the same thing: power, whether sexual or military.  The Girl recounts how she came to participate in the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners, with a flood of self-justification which doesn’t satisfy her, let alone us: she was compelled to transfer her prejudice from fellow-soldiers (including “coloreds”) to the enemy and/or she was determined to show strength to her boyfriend by being able to “take it,” whether “it” was rough sex or being photographed harming a captive.  But she observes cogently that the people truly responsible for the catastrophe have never been and will never be called to account.  Meanwhile, The Boy allows his ambition to become a columnist for a great paper (one of the “Guardians” of the title) to lead him far from anything recognizable as journalistic ethics, while he pursues sexual dominance over a younger man he claims to love.  In one of Morris’s most telling lines, The Boy describes how free he felt while abusing his lover, completely swept up in his own pleasure and with no sense of responsibility—“In short, an American!”

Grant Sabin’s stark white set (representing The Girl’s cell in the brig) silently demonstrates that secrets and lies can hide under the brightest light.  This is a substantial piece of work, but it’s not heavy—we are engaged with the characters even as we accept them as metaphors for the methods and consequences of abusing power.  See this play: through Oct. 18 at Mary-Arrchie’s soon-to-be-demolished theater in Lakeview.

American Idiot

The musical by Green Day receives the best production one could wish for, with a cast wholly committed to the material (not to say hyperactive), fine voices, and some good dancing (though choreographer Katie Spelman might reconsider the use of wiggling fingers in lieu of dance moves: in the context of the show’s general boldness, they look fussy).  Director Steven Wilson and music director Andra Velis Simon get the most out of the sketchy book and banal lyrics (both by Billie Joe Armstrong, with Michael Mayer as co-playwright).  The scene in which our hero (Luke Linsteadt) meets his lady-love (the splendid Krystal Worrell) is electric as they sing together the group’s pop hit “I Walk Alone.”  (Easy irony, anyone?)

The problem is the material which, just like Hair a generation or two ago, reduces its women to adjuncts to the men, who are engaged in the real business of self-discovery.  And it’s particularly easy to recognize this flaw because so much of the show seems ripped off from Hair: there’s the rebellious gang of anti-establishment friends, the guy who becomes a soldier, the one whose pregnant girlfriend will tie him down, the one who’s stoned all the time (though in this case it’s by shooting up rather than smoking dope).

This may seem like a crotchety complaint, and people who haven’t seen Hair won’t be troubled by the parallels; but everyone should be troubled by the fact that, nearly 50 years later, we still only notice women as they pertain to or are useful to men.  If, however, you can submerge yourself in the performance energy, the music and the dancing, perhaps the neglect of women won’t ruin your evening.  Through October 25 at the Den Theatre in Wicker Park.

witchslap

On WDCB’s The Arts Section, Witch Slap at Babes With Blades: Jonathan Is Wrong, As Usual

Kimberly Logan and Lauren Jones in Witch Slap, Babes With Blades performing at the Raven Theatre.

Here’s the link to our latest duel, wherein Jonathan fails to be charmed by the new Babes With Blades play and Kelly comes flying to its defense, broomstick in hand.  Also, Jonathan talks about All Our Tragic, the Hypocrites’ version of the 32 extant Greek dramas mashed into a single show.  All right, a single show which lasts for 12 hours; but there are bathroom breaks!

 

coraline

Coraline: Is it children’s theater or isn’t it? And which Dueling Critic is more childish?

Jonathan and Kelly disagree about Coraline, a musical based on the Neil Gaiman fantasy novel produced by Black Button Eyes Productions at City Lit Theater in Edgewater.  Then J. evaluates the latest Sean Graney extravaganza, All Our Tragic based on ALL of the extant Greek dramas.

 

Tim Parker and Owais Ahmed in First Floor Theater's production of THE RECKONING OF KIT AND LITTLE BOOTS by Nat Cassidy, directed by Gus Menary. Photo by Sid Branca.

Picks: First Floor’s Reckoning of Kit and Little Boots, Raven’s Playboy of the Western World, TimeLine’s The How and The Why

Tim Parker and Owais Ahmed in First Floor Theater’s production of THE RECKONING OF KIT AND LITTLE BOOTS by Nat Cassidy, directed by Gus Menary. Photo by Sid Branca.

K. sez:

Recommended

The Reckoning of Kit and Little Boots, First Floor Theater.  The “Kit” in Nat Cassidy’s play is Christopher Marlowe, here haunted by the emperor Caligula, whose moniker (who knew?) means “Little Boots.”  In sharp comic exchanges punctuated by violence, these two characters (and other Caesars and Elizabethan playwrights) explore the use and abuse of power, the necessary but despised role of the spy, and the challenge of writing simultaneously for one’s own time and for the ages.  Director Gus Menary brings out the best in all the performers, but Owais Ahmed as Kit, Tim Parker as Caligula and Alfred Thomas as spymaster Francis Walsingham have particular depth and breadth.  A production both intellectual and visceral, whereas so often we have to choose one or the other.  Through March 2 at the Den Theatre on Milwaukee Avenue in Bucktown.

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(Leah Frires, Sam Hubbard, Martha Reddick and Lindsay Tornquist in The Playboy of the Western World at Raven Theatre)

The Playboy of the Western World, Raven Theatre.  Director Michael Menendian pulls out all the stops in Raven’s lively production of the Synge classic about a drifter lionized by a benighted Irish community because he killed his father—or did he?  There’s comedy and romance and then—as seems inevitable with Irish plays—an undertone of sadness.  But it doesn’t weigh down the production, invigorated as it is by David Woolley’s vigorous fight direction.  And Andrei Onegin’s set—a gorgeously run-down public house—transports us to turn-of-the-[20th]-Century back-of-beyond County Mayo before anyone says a word.  Through April 5 at the Raven Theatre on Clark Street in Edgewater.

The How and the Why, TimeLine Theatre.  Sarah Treem’s drama is simultaneously about the competition between a pair of female scientists (a professor and a graduate student) and about the content of their dispute, namely, the impact of evolutionary biology on feminism and vice-versa.  This healthy dose of intellectual content raises an otherwise pretty standard intra-gender battle into an exciting examination of what it really means to be a woman.  Under Keira Fromm’s direction, Janet Ulrich Brooks gives her usual fine performance, combining strength and intelligence with a generous dose of empathy, and Elizabeth Ledo more than holds her own.  Through April 6 at TimeLine on Wellington Avenue in Lakeview.

Not so much

Into the Woods, The Hypocrites.  There’s nothing wrong with Geoff Button’s inventive production—at least nothing that couldn’t easily be cured—and he’s assembled a strong cast to enact his clever notions.  The problem is the show itself, James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s ponderous retelling of fairy tales whose purpose is to bear the news that fairy tales aren’t real and life doesn’t consist of happy endings.  Find me people who need to have that explained to them and I’ll send them to this show.  Its excess length and over-seriousness are here exacerbated by the over-amplification of the orchestra, so the words of many songs (especially those sung by the Witch) can’t be ascertained.  Or maybe that’s a blessing.  Through March 30 at the Mercury Theater on Southport in Wrigleyville.

Chicago’s Golden Soul, Black Ensemble Theatre.  This revival of Jackie Taylor’s jukebox musical shows the piece to be a concert rather than a play, as evidenced by the fact that no director is credited.  The music, arranged and directed by Robert Reddick, is superb, as is always the case with Black Ensemble shows.  And as always the text is labored and didactic.  Fortunately Mark Allan Davis’s choreography is top-notch and Evelyn Danner’s costumes gorgeous and period-perfect, not an easy combination when presenting the 1970s.  This show, too, is overlong, but any number of hours would be worth it for Lawrence Williams’s showstopping rendition of “Summertime.”  Running in rep with The Story of Curtis Mayfield through March 29 at the BET Center on Clark Street in Uptown.

Really not at all

The Pitchfork Disney, Interrobang Productions.  In one agonizing two-hour act, the characters in Philip Ridley’s pointlessly ugly play break each other’s fingers, eat cockroaches, describe cooking and eating a live garter snake, and generally make it difficult for the audience (or at least this member thereof) to keep from vomiting.  The apparent purpose of all this is to demonstrate that the outside world is as terrifying and disgusting as any inside world characters can create for themselves, and vice-versa.  I could have guessed that.  Through March 2 at the Athenaeum on Southport in Lakeview; if you hurry you can miss it.

Suzie

Next to Normal: Biography of the Dueling Critics?

J. and K. review the musical drama Next to Normal at Drury Lane Oakbrook, and pass along good news about the Hypocrites, 16th Street Theatre, Roche Schulfer, Chicago Shakespeare–and, of course, Jonathan himself.