The other shows I saw in 2010-11 were a mixed bag. Some I hated, but I enjoyed writing about all of them, so I’m posting them all here.
So, a caveat: If you found your way here because a Google Alert on your own name picked up this link– well, read at your own risk. Out of anybody whose name appears on this page, the only person’s mother who should read any further is mine.
I’m dividing this list in two: First the also-rans, then the stuff that was actually bad. Depending on your taste, you may want to start at the bottom.
Not bad, really
The following shows all had their strong points but didn’t win me over– at least not enough that I’d feel comfortable advising somebody to fork over cash and two hours of their life they can never get back.
Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, Epic Theatre Company
Peanuts meets Mean Girls in this parody by Brad Royal. We get a teen Charlie Brown (“CB” here) mourning Snoopy’s recent death from rabies, Patty and Marcie as soulless bullies, a perpetually stoned Linus, and Lucy in a padded cell. Schroeder is gay, and the group has turned violently against him. In his grief over Snoop, CB seeks to make up–and then make out–with the outcast pianist, bringing the gang’s homophobic rage down on them both. Cheap elements–including extreme, reflexive gay-bashing–stand out awkwardly against echoes of the original strip’s smarts and soulfulness. Still, the young, earnest, uneven Epic Theatre Company cast ultimately won me over.
Skylight, Appetite Theatre
Former lovers Tom and Kyra argue till dawn over who betrayed whom and which of them has cultivated the dumber illusions, taking time out to screw. A wealthy entrepreneur, Tom considers himself wronged by Kyra for abandoning him, by his late wife for not forgiving him for the affair, and by society for not worshipping him. He lands some painful jabs, but Kyra, who teaches in a bleak urban school, holds the moral high ground throughout. David Hare’s 1995 drama requires that the actor playing Tom make up in magnetism for what the character lacks in decency and self-awareness. Forced to step into the role at the last minute, director Nick Izzo gives an honorable effort but falls short in Appetite Theater’s production. Colin Fewell projects a winning awkwardness as Tom’s teenage son, Edward.
Superman 2050, Theater Unspeakable
This 35-minute late-night show borrows plot, dialogue, and its approach to characters from the 1979 movieSuperman–but leans even more heavily on special effects. Images like those of a man in flight, bullets bouncing off a villain’s torso, and Clark Kent racing a bullet train are created live by Marc Frost’s seven-person cast, who remain perched on a three-by-seven-foot wooden platform for the duration. (They also hum the theme music, conjure dozens of different locations, and portray scores of inanimate objects.) It’s a charming stunt that manages only one knock-your-socks-off image yet offers plenty of small pleasures, efficiently delivered.
The Moonstone, Lifeline Theater
Victoriana fiends may want to take in this new adaptation of the first English detective novel, published by Wilkie Collins in 1868. Otherwise, it’s skippable. There’s little to care about until late in act one, the uneven British accents are distracting, quaint character quirks–like the butler’s Robinson Crusoe fetish–go stale quickly, and Collins’s Hindu villains are an embarrassment. The whole shebang amounts to a three-hour shaggy-dog story–not charmless, but not a good use of the talent and effort on display. Accents aside, the cast is strong, especially Ann Sonneville as the haunted ingenue. The set, lighting, and costumes are all solid, and director Paul Holmquist does a decent job of keeping things moving in acts two and three.
The Cripple of Innishmann, Druid Ensemble at Chicago Shakespeare
In Martin McDonagh’s comedy, staged here by Ireland’s Druid ensemble, a gimpy kid slips out of his stifling Irish village, makes it to Hollywood, and then returns. Some of the humor is enjoyably dark, the authentic Irish accents sell themselves, and the super-stagey blocking gets less distracting after a while. Ditto the pauses after every line, calculated to illustrate the Irish-country-bumpkin vibe–and, I suspect, to make room for laughs. Clare Dunne is adorable as the hero’s big crush, evoking the spirit of the Three Stooges’ Moe Howard in Olive Oyl’s body. If the show had ended after act two’s third big reversal I’d have been content. But several more big reversals followed and I left tired.
The Earl, The Inconvenience
Three brothers have made a tradition of staging a violent game (a crowbar features prominently) in a dilapidated office. This time around, the runt of the litter has brought along a ringer, or “earl”: a movie star in the Clint Eastwood mold who kicks the living crap out of the other two brothers. Playwright Brett Neveu keeps the backstory so vague that there’s little emotional charge, leaving fight choreography as the main attraction. Some sudden, gory moments yield both laughs and shock–think pro wrestling–but it’s hit-and-miss. Lanky, swift, and impish as the hyped-up youngest brother, Ryan Bourque is the best thing by far in this staging by Duncan Riddell for the Inconvenience.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Theatre Mir
There’s plenty to admire in Jonathan Berry’s staging of the Bertolt Brecht classic, in which a scullery maid rescues an aristocrat’s baby son during an insurrection and then goes through hell to protect him. The actors display commitment, intelligence, and talent throughout; early scenes effectively conjure war’s chaotic menace; and the finale–in which a drunken judge presides over the battle for the babe when his biological mom reappears–is full of satiric zing. In between, though, this Theatre Mir production gets dicey. Chance Bone’s songs are lackluster, and the cast’s musicianship is uneven. Berry lingers over the play’s every dark corner at the expense of narrative urgency and comic timing. Without many thrills, laughs, or decent tunes, the show’s long middle is a drag.
That bad, really.
OK, here’s where you want to stop reading if you’re friends with someone involved in one of these shows.
Ismene, Dream Theatre
Tragedy literally stalks the heroine of this sorta sequel to Antigone, chasing her to a fortress-like school for girls whom the gods have wronged. There are some bold, smart performances–especially an energetically villainous turn by playwright/director Jeremy Menekseoglu–and once things get moving, Ismene is agreeably creepy and suspenseful. But the plot takes forever to develop any momentum, and there’s too much clumsy philosophizing throughout. (The Greek gods were jerks? You don’t say.) I was a Marvel Comics nerd as a kid, so I’ve got a nostalgic fondness for this mix of pulpy entertainment and cheesy deep thinking. But the balance is all wrong here, and that’s hard to forgive in a three-hour show.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Emerald City
In Mo Willems’s charming, witty picture books, a quick-witted pigeon wheedles, begs, and eventually spazzes out trying to get his way. Parents and children switch roles, with the adult reader voicing the pigeon’s demands, and the kids answering “No!” This adaptation, given a disjointed staging by Emerald City Theatre, has one stroke of inspiration: presenting the pigeon, feather-free, as a wised-up if goofy young man, played by the magnetic James Anthony Zoccoli. But Zocolli can’t sustain the whole show, which is unnecessarily repetitive and takes an overtly didactic stance that Willems wisely avoids. The production felt overlong to me at 60 minutes, and kids in the audience were squirming by the 40-minute mark.
Naughty! The Musical World of Emmet Taylor Farkas, Naughty Productions
This show by Leo Schwartz and Jeremy Kareken aims for irresistible outrageousness and misses. With the theater decked out as a funeral home and the audience positioned as mourners, four performers mount a “backers audition” for a revue of songs by the deceased–Emmet Taylor Farkas–who we’re told was a wealthy misanthrope and frustrated songwriter. When the first song started with a nonsensical reference to Richard Nixon in the present tense, I suspected we were in shaky hands. Abundant confirmation followed. The number in which TV’s Beaver Cleaver comes out to his parents exemplifies the show’s MO: outdated premise, unimaginative treatment. Shifra Werch’s staging for Naughty Productions adds little, but the promising Samantha Siroky almost manages to sell a couple of tunes.
Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Project 891
Director Ron Popp and the cast of this Project 891 production have bitten off more than they can chew with Joe Orton’s 1964 black comedy about a sociopathic lodger who uses his magnetic sexuality to control a middle-aged landlady and her closeted older brother. The pace drags interminably in act one, the actors leaving half a beat after almost every line as if to give each irony a chance to sink in. Things pick up a bit in act three, when the siblings negotiate an arrangement to share the young thug, who’s just murdered their father. The characters having dropped their masks of propriety, the actors are free simply to play out Orton’s deliciously ugly action.
Johnny Boy’s Graduation, at Boni Vino Restaurant
A direct descendant of Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding–two of that show’s creators are among the writers here, and one of them directs–this “interactive comedy” takes the form of a party celebrating the title mobster’s release from prison. Patrons are greeted as old pals by cast members, and the mingling continues through dinner, dancing, and dessert. The story–with a cache of diamonds as the MacGuffin–holds no surprises, the jokes are stale, and the party atmosphere is forced (especially the sing-along to a couple of Sinatra chestnuts). The location, however, is brilliant: a charming, dumpy Italian restaurant just a block away from an actual federal prison. The kitchen’s homey, zesty food might steal the show even if the competition were stiffer.