Posts filed under ‘Uncategorized’

Exciting Stuff Over At Open Source

Hey all–

In case you are wondering what I work on when I’m not hullabalooing around town, take a peak at the Open Source Theatre Project blog at opensourcetheatreproject.wordpress.com.  We got a show, The Comfort Station Plays, coming up April 14th in Logan Square, and it is well worth a visit.  It is also free.

On the blog you can read some snippets of the plays, as well as see more info about the collective and the current project.

 

Enjoy!
-Barry

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March 30, 2011 at 10:44 pm Leave a comment

The Reboot

Hello all.  I haven’t posted in awhile, not since last theatre season.  This season, though, is sure to bring lots more fun.  I have still written reviews at Chicago Theatre Blog, so steer your browser over there to read the bulk of my stuff.  But there will be more to come soon.

October 6, 2010 at 9:32 pm Leave a comment

GIRLS VS. BOYS Could Use More War

REVIEW: Girls vs. Boys

Book and lyrics by Chris Mathews, Jake Minton and Nathan Allen

Music by Kevin O’Donnell and Nathan Allen

Directed by Nathan Allen

The House Theatre

* * (out of 4)

So young, so shirtless

When I first read the description for the House’s newest musical Girls vs. Boys, I was led to believe there would be an actual battle of the sexes on-stage.  I’m talking blood, grenades, and air raids.  The actual show, detailing the lives of some teenagers, is closer to Pat Benatar than Patton.  Guns are pointed, but they are just metaphors for those other (decidedly less deadly) weapons, our words.  In a valiant attempt to become a manifesto for a generation, Girls vs. Boys comes off as broad and safe.  An actual body count might have pushed this musical into new territory, but, alas, way more hearts are broken than bones.

Girls vs. Boys was the result of The American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern this past summer. The book and lyrics were penned by House heroes Chris Mathews, Jake Minton, and Nathan Allen and the show was composed by Kevin O’Donnell and Nathan Allen.  The show revolves around all those teenage things we see in movies and TV: crazy parties, drugs, ADD, sex, all that good stuff.  The problem with the show is that it doesn’t add anything new to the genre.  Kids are young and crazy, we get it.

The ensemble here is pretty strong (especially the emotional heart of the piece, Tyler Ravelson), and the energy is the required nutty level.  Collette Pollard’s sleek set includes a built in mosh pit for a cheaper ticket, but when I went the “moshers” looked like they were at a Spoon concert.  However, the cast is clearly having a great time, which carries over to everyone in the audience.

I’m not sure this qualifies for a cult musical, because I can’t imagine anyone but the House putting it on.  The music, lyrics, and plots mesh together alright in the Chopin, but nothing from the show weasels into your consciousness like Spring Awakening—you won’t be humming these songs weeks later.  The show is fine on the surface, but staying-power requires an intriguing core that drives everything forward, be it unique yet relatable stories, fantastic music, or (ideally) both.

Teenage girls throwing comically-large cartoon bombs at boys could be the answer.  I’m just saying.

Barry Eitel

May 17, 2010 at 6:00 pm Leave a comment

Because I’m too Lazy to come up with my own opinions…

Here is an interesting look at the 2009 Oscar nominations from a theatrical perspective, written by Zev Valancy.

The only thing I’m wondering about is the choice to make it 10 nominees for Best Picture.  I get the feeling the Academy is nervous of the Award show becoming irrelevant, losing the massive amount of status it once had.  I can’t really disagree, but fortunately it hasn’t reached the lowpoint of the Grammys.  I did watch those last week.  I think I’ve narrowed the disparity down to this: a lot of indie music that isn’t recognized by the Recording Academy, I believe, is often perceived as better artistically than much of the commercial stuff out there.  But movies are different, because stuff out on the fringes a lot of times suck.  A generalization that makes a sweeping judgment, maybe. But I think there is some truth to it.

–Barry

February 4, 2010 at 4:32 pm Leave a comment

The Brother/Sister Plays @ Steppenwolf

Hey folks,

Busy weekend. I saw The Brother/Sister Plays at Steppenwolf on Saturday, and they are truly amazing. Here’s a plug for my review.

August: Osage County last night. Sort of at lost for words.

Happy 6 more weeks of winter,

Barry Eitel

February 3, 2010 at 5:42 pm Leave a comment

Casting Disabled Actors

Here is an interesting article I came across about actors with mental and physical disabilities.  It revolves around the producers of Fox’s ‘Glee’ (one of whom is a Loyola grad) casting a non-disabled actor to play Artie, the show’s wheelchair-bound character.  Thought-provoking stuff.

Peace,

Barry Eitel

January 20, 2010 at 7:58 pm 1 comment

LOFTY DEEDS A Redneck Good Time

REVIEW

ALL THE FAME OF LOFTY DEEDS

 

House Theatre

Written by Mark Guarino

Directed by Tommy Rapley

Through December 20th (tickets available here)

 

*** (out of 4)

 

Let me clear the air before you read any further and let you know that I might be an anomaly when it comes to all things House Theatre.  To be honest, I’ve never really been too impressed by much of anything I’ve seen by them (which, admittedly, hasn’t been a whole lot).  Their adolescent sense of curiosity, dancey staging, and extreme energy acting doesn’t really jive with my tastes.  Maybe that makes me a soulless, fun-hating ol’ stick in the mud.  Either way, there was something about their newest production, All the Fame of Lofty Deeds, which struck a chord (get ready for some music puns) with me.  The show, detailing the rise and fall of a country music star, is darker and more mature than the House’s usual fare, and also requires a more grounded style.  Although there are some glaring narrative and stylistic issues, Lofty Deeds forces all of the House’s creative energy into something denser and deeper than anything I’ve seen there previously.

Although they usually devise their own pieces, the House chose an outside play as their season opener. Lofty Deeds, written by rock journalist Mark Guarino, is saturated with the music and art of Jon Langford.  Langford, an alt-country pioneer, is known for his twangy hillbilly music and mythic lyrics that combine classic country with a punk rock ethos.  He is also famous for painting portraits of country music legends like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.  Lofty Deeds captures Langford’s aesthetic: the story revolves around a rebellious country music star staring death in the face (in the form of a tumbleweed), the design is inspired by Langford’s art, and vibrant, live versions of Langford’s music infiltrate every scene.

The “dangers/fallacies/hypocrisies of the music business” plot doesn’t cover any new territory.  At the beginning of the play, former country music star and senior citizen Lofty Deeds (Nathan Allen) is coerced into revisiting the ghosts of his past—the death of his recording partner and brother, ruined relationships, selling out to evil music executives, the inevitable substance addictions.  Where the House really succeeds is painting this story in a charmingly imaginative way.  In this production, the “suits” appear as a Brooks Brothers-adorned five-headed hydra.  Through Tommy Rapley’s dance-like choreography, the five actors that represent corporate America become a single organism: moving, speaking, and thinking the same.  We also see Deeds slow-dance his way into love with a woman whose face is always veiled, and then we watch him neglect her for a life on the road.  All of this is narrated and driven by a talking and singing tumbleweed (Corri Feuerstein).  It seems that the weed is sometimes a grim reaper figure, sometimes an inspiration, and sometimes the cause of Lofty’s unwanted flashbacks.  Like a bunch of the show’s elements, the tumbleweed character often causes more confusion than symbolic enlightenment.

I was able to forgive many of the clunkier moments and just go with the production’s rhythmic flow.  However, there were more than a handful of times when the narrative became obscured.  For example, there is a recurring talking horse puppet that never really made sense to me.  Part of these inconsistencies was probably due to Guarino’s script being a little underdeveloped, and part of it came from Rapley’s emphasis on theatricality over clarity.

Lofty Deeds stands out among House productions for me because it was the most grounded show I’ve seen by them.  In a refreshing twist, not every moment was overplayed.  Allen does a pretty good job carrying the show, but he plays far too much to the audience.  That might be the House’s aesthetic, and it is totally fine in the more expressive moments, but it can dissipate all the tension in the dramatic scenes.  It just doesn’t work when we watch Deeds discuss his perpetual loneliness with his brother’s ghost or the singing dead plant and then he turns and delivers a couple of lines to us.  Patrick Martin, though, does a marvelous job as his dead brother, Lefty Deeds.  He is simple yet complex, remarkably charming yet says little.  If the whole production could match his style, the show could be absolutely wonderful.

 

–Barry Eitel

More information can be found at www.thehousetheatre.com

November 23, 2009 at 10:52 pm Leave a comment

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