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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Confusing Premise, but Moving Stories Recorded by The Archivist (theatre review)

It takes guts to back a full production of new work at any theatre. That said, in the Right Brain Project’s world premier of Stephen Gawrit’s original science fiction play, “The Archivist,” playing through August 20th at the group’s matchbox of a space, there was no other choice than to go all in. Gawrit’s wholly original world, brought to life through Emma Peterson’s painstaking direction and the stellar work of an excellent design team, is intricate and oftentimes confusing, perhaps a symptom of the play’s broad ambitions. But there’s something special going on here if you can get past the puzzling rules and latch onto the deep themes alive in a dying world.


The Archivist takes place well into a future without humans, who have brought on their own self-destruction through nuclear war. Unfortunately this was the only unoriginal part of an incredibly original and fascinating future. Upon enter the RBP’s space, viewers are greeted with video showing the impending atomic holocaust (the footage seemed to be taken from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, but if I were to claim this as fact, I would be outing myself for having seen that film one too many times). The chorus of this futuristic tragedy doubles as Voices, or vessels for the thoughts of the plays characters (I think). This was probably the least effective part of the performance. The group’s delivery in unison and spoken rhythms will benefit from a few more performances.

In an effort to “chronicle and validate” humankind, a group of cyborgs known as Archivists or Creators, travel through time and space, recording human memories. This is where the play took off. The crop of cyborgs- a silent film actress, a father and his teenage daughter, and a solider return with a head-full of memories and a deep connection to the lives they lived in the past, a connection so strong that the line between reality and assignment ultimately disappears.

Colby Sellers and Charlotte Mae Jusino gave deeply moving performances as a suicidal teen and her broken father, who was left to watch the story of her demise play out on tabloid television. Natalie DiCristofano also shined as the copy of a manically depressed silent film star.

If you’re tracking a common mood here, it’s clearly sadness. Both the strengths and weaknesses of the play are rooted in Gawrit’s commitment to strong and excessive shades of the same gloomy color. The world resembled that of 12 Monkeys, where logic and sense clearly elude survivors in the future after a biological epidemic sends them underground. It also has hints of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slapstick,” where the few survivors fail to fully adjust to their post-apocalyptic world that they had a hand in creating.

What is missing here that is present in both of those works is a sense of humor or satire. As a viewer (and apparent inhabitant of this world – a part of the performance that I never fully understood), you are left wishing for some context or perspective as a witness.

At the same time, much of the emotion and contemplation is only possible through the commitment of the performances and the play’s emotional message that seeps through in the final scenes between The last Archivist (Evan Hill) and his Companion/mate (Meghan Phillipp). Their final decision in the face of insurmountable obstacles to their own existence and mission is moving and hits themes deeper than most works I’ve experienced in the science fiction genre. There’s plenty of hopelessness here, as in many post-apocalyptic works, but the ending to the story of the central characters is inward and human. At the same time, efforts to physically integrate the audience into the world of the play end up detracting from the otherwise powerful climax.

Alexis Michael’s scenic design is fantastic, alluding to futuristic worlds we are all familiar with in popular post-apocalyptic sci-fi film, but seemingly unique to the world of this play at the same time. Beyond the unnecessary entrance into the space, the main scenic design was amazingly wrapped around and built into the tiny space of the RBP. Maybe 20 seats at most are available and while the acknowledgement of the audience was more distracting than anything else, the proximity to the action and the excellent navigation of the actors through the space added to the awesomeness of the experience.

Peterson should be commended for her work choreographing the actors as characters that experience multiple states of consciousness while they seamlessly work their way through the space. Rather than watching actors dodge one other, the set, and the audience, it was as if such cramped living conditions were all the characters knew.

While the play is utterly confusing at times (I am certain I have botched the story and the rules of this new world in my writing here) and the dark and saddened mood can be cumbersome without a variety of emotional undertones, “The Archivist” is more than worth it! Whatever it lacks in clarity and variety, it makes up for with depth and a wholly original future.

Be patient, drink water (it’s provided as the space gets pretty warm), and think while you watch. Gawrit’s unwavering commitment to the humanity of his characters, and the excellent collaboration of Peterson and Michael in building a fully operational model for this complex story make “The Archivist” well worth the trip.

Grade: A-

-Michael Dice, Jr.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Chicagoland Ladies of Arm Wrestling

I am a wrestling fan. Stone Cold, the Rock, Rob Van Dam, Mick Foley, and many others have put themselves in harm’s way several times for my entertainment, and I respect them for that. I don’t watch WWE every week so studiously that it could be considered church, but I’m a fan who appreciates a good, loud, funny, raunchy good time. The Chicagoland Ladies of Arm Wrestling (CLLAW) are just that. Produced by Sideshow Theater Company, this cast of colorful, over the top athletes (and make no mistake, they ARE athletes) yell and scream, spit and taunt, strut and preen all over the stage to give their fans a great time.

CLLAW X, the latest bout pitting warrior princess against warrior princess, was at the fabulous sports bar Joe’s on Weed. This place is friggin’ huge. My companion and I showed up, and my first reaction was, hell yeah. You are transported into a wrestling event, a la’ a pay per view event like No Way Out or Summer Slam. The excitement and estrogen in the air is palpable. The arm wrestling ring, a table secured to a floating platform in the middle of the room, is the centerpiece of the event. This positioning is absolutely key in order to allow the crowd to surround the ring and see all the action. The host of the event, dressed as Wonder Woman, directed the action from the stage, along with a guy with no pants on. We were introduced to the competitors, each complete with their own entourage. There was a fierce white trash fighter Arm-kansas, along with her baby mama; the sweet but not innocent fairy tale heroine Snow Blight; and Arm-ageddon, the harbinger of doom, who’s pretty hot, by the way.

The event was judged by Molly Brennan, who rules, and because she takes on all those girls. Oh, I’m sorry, did I just issue a challenge?!? The other judges were a dude in drag (who went to school with my buddy) and Joe Janes. You know…that guy.

The single elimination tournament was ready to start. The competitors went down, one after the other. Now, we all know that wrestling is “fake” (those guys kill themselves to sell a match, make no mistake about that!), but these girls sell out. They are fighting each other up there. They try to psych each other out. They play to the crowd, and give a good show. I was yelling and screaming the whole night. I was also really happy, because I don’t think there are very many better ways to spend a Saturday night. The judges even through obstacles against the wrestlers, pouring syrup over the arms, or pies in the face on pin falls. Stupid fun.

The final pair, the Killer Bee (you can imagine what her deal is) and Arm-ageddon faced off in a twisted match, literally. They were struggling so hard against each other that a part of the metal table base was twisted and broken off. They are fighting, ya’ll! After a time out for technical difficulties, the match resumed. In a close call, Killer Bee came out on top, seizing the belt from previous champ, monster criminal Connie Vict. After the show, my buddy knocked a drink out of a dude’s hand and got kicked out, so our night ended poetically.

Overall, you have got to see this show. You don’t have to enjoy wrestling to have a good time at this event. The crowd is loud, the action swift, and the beer flows. Be sure to check out CLLAW XI. Information is available on their blog: http://cllaw.wordpress.com/

-John Moran

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Disney's Beauty and the Beast (theatre review)

I got to go to “Disney’s The Lion King” a year ago and that was my first experience with Disney musicals.

It was awesome. Not only is the show totally tits, but the Broadway In Chicago people are friendly, helpful and have all their shit together, which can be a relief when you usually deal with the volunteer marketing directors in our beloved storefront scene.

I really wish I had gotten a BFA.

So I was totally pumped to go see “Disney’s Beauty And The Beast” at the wonderful “Disney’s Oriental Theater” in the heart of downtown “Disney’s Chicago”.

I went with my friend Tom, so we immediately had the creep factor of two middle-aged men at a little girl’s play. BUT THAT’S WHERE YOU ARE WRONG!!

See, anyone who has ever been to anything Disney knows that they have scientists working around the clock to make every production and experience equally as enjoyable for adults, too.

An old man who loves cartoon musicals

We al know the story of Beauty And The Beast because it is a tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme.

In fact, from the first words sung, it was completely visceral for anybody who knows anything.


There goes the baker with his tray, like always

The same old bread and rolls to sell

Ev'ry morning just the same

Since the morning that we came

To this poor provincial town


Oh man, I was STOKED!!!

In fact, when you go see a Disney play, it sort of makes you feel like shit for all the hard work you have done for the last 10 years making plays out of things you found in the garbage, because this play costs like, 3 million dollars.

The best part about Disney plays for me, was something I noticed in the first act that I hadn’t noticed before…there is no irony or skepticism. Nobody is winking at me or breaking any walls or juxtaposing a Fleet Foxes song against a play set in the 1800’s. It’s just a fairy tale told as a fairy tale. To me, that is so relaxing and you are able to let your guard down because no one is trying to give you a message. Eric and I have discussed Art Vs. Entertainment at some of our appearances and while it exists in all aspects of theatre, Disney is the finest.

Basically, quit trying to get me to learn some shit at your play. I don’t want to.

Towards the end of the first act is probably the most celebrated number from this thing called “Be Our Guest”. You see, Belle has just become the castle prisoner of the Beast and refused to eat with him. The Beast storms off, leaving Belle alone in the castle to wander and make new friends with the furniture. There is a clock named Cogsworth, and a Candlestick thing named Lumiere. They are the bosses of the house. Cogsworth is always worried about the Beast not being happy and about the rose petals falling off the rose, because when the last petal drops, they will stay as these objects forever. Lumiere is so concerned with banging the feather duster, he doesn’t care about shit. Well, Belle comes downstairs and meets them and they tell her that they can make her any food she wants and then they do this dance to the song “Be Our Guest” which is fucking incredible. There are dancing plates and spoons and Welcome mats that do back flips, and teapots and all sorts of crazy appliances doing dances. They shoot confetti at the audience and hold for applause for about 25 minutes.

Then the Beast comes back out and sings some more about how sad he is.

If I were them, I would switch those 2 songs, because after the sensory overload of “Be Our Guest” I wasn’t ready to hear that monster sing anymore until after I had a cigarette.

Well, the Beast and Belle find true love and the candlestick gets his hands back, so he is ready to fingerblast everyone, and everyone has a great final dance time.

I don’t know how much tickets cost or who is equity or any of that bullshit. If they wanna do the play and know they are making less, good for them. Unions are never a sign of talent, so don’t be thrown off because of any of that stuff being discussed.

It’s a Disney show and the quality is unmistakably there.

We had a great time, and got to meet the cast afterwards, which wasn’t as exciting because they aren’t union.

Who's the broad in the red and what is she doing tonight and does she like married guys?

The raping candlestick wasn’t there; I really wanted to meet him.

Anyway, you don’t need to hear it from me, but this show is pretty cool, take your daughters, or just go by yourself, you will love it.

A+

-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach

Monday, July 11, 2011

The All New Original Tribute to the Blues Brothers (theatre review)

I have always seen the allure of the Blues Brothers. They were two dudes that didn’t take care of themselves from the suburbs that liked to dress really cool and handcuff briefcases to themselves and talk about how they were sent by God to sing cover songs.

If you can’t get behind that as an American then I think YOU are the one with the problem, fella.

The story is pretty simple and one we all know. Jake and Elwood Blues grew up in Joliet and have to avoid the cops because they stole something or another and on their way to wherever, they have to stop and sing Otis Redding songs with backup dancers.

The original Blues Brothers were John Belushi and Dan Akroyd and even if you were born in the last 20 years, you have undoubtedly seen them in some form of slutty girls Halloween costume or maybe at the “House of Blues”, which is also filled with slutty girls, I bet.

Well, I went to see a show that is a tribute band of a cover band this past week, and I tell ya what. It was pretty neat. To be honest, I thought I was going to see a play version of the movie, but that is mainly because I don’t do any research. Either way, I was super excited.

This production is straight from the bars and cabaret houses of England and Australia and right into the 5 thousand seat Auditorium Theater in Downtown Chicago, where the lights are bright and everyone is asking you for money if you sit outside at the Bennigan’s down the street from the theater.

The guy who plays Jake is really named Brad Henshaw. Apparently he is very famous in England. He does a pretty good Belushi with all the cartwheels and Joe Cocker impressions and he also produced it and directed it.

My favorite part of the show was the guy who played Elwood. I always felt like while Belushi gets to play the real cool guy, Akroyd had a much harder job. He had to play it straight, and also, he gets that really awesome speech about being “30 miles outside of Chicago with a half pack of cigarettes” . Also, Akroyd is still alive, so suck it Belushi. Your brother is on “According to Jim”.

It’s just a concert, so don’t get any ideas about it telling a story or anything, and to be honest, while the Auditorium is world-renowned for it’s acoustics, the sound mix was pretty lousy.

But if you want a chance to see the Blues Brothers in person, this might be your best bet until you get to Heaven.

Oh yeah, also the black guy from the movie was played by Huggy Bear from “Starsky and Hutch”. In the movie, the black guy was played by…um…that one famous black guy…not Ben Vereen, not Gregory Hines…not Harry Belafonte…not Sammy Davis…but the OTHER black guy that could sing and dance and wound up doing children’s tv shows.

Anyway, take your husband out to see it, he will like it.

A-

-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hobo With A Shotgun (movie review)

You would be forgiven for thinking that Hobo with a Shotgun isn’t actually a real movie. From the self-explanatory title, to the film stock’s super-saturated colors, to Rutger Hauer’s semi-silly grizzled expression, everything about it seems to indicate a sort of unreality in the production. And in fact, Hobo began its life as a fake trailer, shown before screenings of Tarantino’s and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse double-feature. Given its genesis, the inevitable comparisons to Planet Terror and Death Proof seem like a conveniently built-in marketing device, drumming up feverish interest for the depraved cult fan base that constitutes the modern-day viewership of “grindhouse” cinema. As this gem of a splatter film enters its third weekend as a midnight movie at the Music Box Theater, consider the review that follows a public service announcement: If you can stomach it, Hobo with a Shotgun is the most entertaining movie you will see all summer.

The story is simple: our hero, known only as the Hobo (Rutger Hauer), rides a cargo train from points unknown through an idyllic landscape and stops off in Hope City, an urban nightmare populated with drug dealers, prostitutes, and armed robbers. Soon after bearing witness to numerous acts of unspeakable violence (including a rather creative method of decapitation in the middle of the street), the Hobo interjects on behalf of a pretty young prostitute named Abby (Molly Dunsworth), just as she is about to be dragged off to some horrible fate by Slick (Gregory Smith), the favorite son of Hope City’s reigning crime boss Drake (Brian Downey). In return for his gallantry, the Hobo suffers abuse and injustice at the hands of the corrupt police chief (Jeremy Akerman) and Drake’s less-favored son Ivan (Nick Bateman). Left with little choice, the Hobo invests his savings in a 20-gauge shotgun that he uses to clean up the streets. Drake and his sons, who run Hope City by way of a horrifying agenda of violence, find their authority threatened by the Hobo’s streak of vigilante justice and wage war against him and everything he holds dear.

The final third of the film introduces the viewer to a supernatural element, in the form of Drake’s secret weapon: a pair of centuries-old demon-soldiers known only as the Plague. The Plague’s rampage through the flickering fluorescent-lit hallways of a hospital tin search of the vigilante Hobo is one of the highlights of the film. If there is one thing Hobo with a Shotgun could have used, it is more of the Plague.

Now, a word of warning that should not come as a surprise: expect a total gorefest. Just how gory, you ask? Well, you can find an exhaustive catalogue of the film’s violent acts here (spoiler alert). You might have difficulty erasing some of those images from your head. If graphic violence disturbs you, do not go see this movie. Rent The Care Bears Movie instead. For those who can stomach the violence, Hobo with a Shotgun strikes the perfect balance of humor and gore. The surprisingly engaging story relies on the tender friendship between the Hobo and Abby for its moral center. These unlikely heroes give the audience something to root for in between cascades of blood.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Hobo with a Shotgun is a midnight movie this weekend at the Music Box Theater. It may be your last chance to see this film on the big screen. DON’T MISS IT!

A+

-Joseph Tansino