Monthly Archives: January 2014
The Side Project Theatre Company presents Request Concert
At the Side Project Theatre in Roger’s Park is a show where the front of house staff starts off by telling you there will be no curtain call. The small black box theatre where you will see Request Concert efficiently uses all of the space it has, filling it with what looks like a studio apartment. The show begins without much warning as the audience lights dim and a woman enters the space. She feels very familiar, coming in from the cold Chicago winter and settling into her small home wearily after a long day. The entire play consists of this spinster, Ms. Rasch, going about her evening routine. The production is part of Side Project Theatre Company’s attempt to explore urban loneliness in conjunction with another play by the same writer entitled Through the Leaves. While at first watcingh a 40-something woman eat her dinner, wash dishes, and listen to the radio is a little difficult for a 21st century fast-paced audience to adjust to, by the end you really fell like you know Ms. Rasch, perhaps better than she knows herself.
Admittedly, this show may not be for everyone. It is a very intimate venture into a very lonely and sad woman’s life. It is also a wordless play, so it sometimes takes a bit of concentration not to let your mind wander. However, even when it does, that only makes you reflect more on how small and far between the joys in Ms. Rasch’s life are. Suddenly the act of treating yourself to cookies after dinner becomes a very special ritual. Meg Elliott, who plays Ms. Rasch, looks perhaps a little young for the role, but is very subtle and skilled in her portrayal of the character. From smoking a cigarette to folding a napkin, Elliott puts great care and meaning into every little action on stage. It is easy to sympathize with her character.
All of the elements of this production are very subtle. In the background, I thought I could hear the sound of cars and traffic. If the theatre wasn’t in quiet Roger’s Park, I would have just assumed it was the sound of Chicago. That environmental design and the compilation of songs playing on the radio’s “Request Concert Hour” were designed by Stephen Gawrit. The very livable and tiny studio apartment set was designed by Carolyn Voss, who even added running water to the set design. It’s funny how the continual drip of a real faucet can add to the ambiance of the moment. The entire production, much like Ms. Rasch herself, come together to form a very neat and tidy package.
Request Concert is certainly not like every play you are going to see in Chicago. It definitely feels like the production of a storefront theatre company, but is surprising in the risks Side Project Theatre Company chooses to take. However, even though the style of the production is inventive, the ending feels a little predictable. Essentially the message becomes: people who live alone in cities are lonely. It would be interesting to see a counter to this production, where a single woman living alone finds ways to make her life meaningful. There is certainly a truth and sadness to Request Concert, but perhaps there could be a brighter side to the urban lifestyle.
Reviewed by Clare Kosinski
Presented January 22-February 2 by The Side Project Theatre Company, 1439 West Jarvis Ave, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773.340.0140 or by visiting their website www.thesideproject.net.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.
Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money
Imagine someone giving you a piece of currency that bares the likeness of African-American R&B singer James Brown, the initials HWMISB and the denomination of 1 followed by fifteen zeros. Your reaction would be much the same as 10-year-old Steven’s in this jubilant musical for the entire family, based on Christopher Paul Curtis‘ award-winning children’s novel of the same name. Not knowing what to call Mr. Chickee’s strange bill or whether or not it’s even real, Steven, the president of the FFD (Flint Future Detectives), sets out to solve this case. With the assistance of co-detectives Richelle and Russell, Mr. Chickee’s giant rag mop dog Zoopy and a little help from his parents, Steven discovers what is really valuable in life. Whether outwitting evil National Treasury Agent Fondoo, learning about the Godfather of Soul or recognizing who’s “My Best Friend,” this terrifically entertaining 60-minute musical is a must-see.Read More
Our Country’s Good – Shattered Globe
It’s been argued that theatre can be a humanizing force, for the audience but especially for its participants. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1990 play, based on Australian Thomas Keneally’s novel, The Playmaker, depicts the origins of Western civilization in Australia. During the 1780’s England began deporting its criminals, accompanied by a crew of Royal Marines, to a newly established penal colony in far off Sidney Bay, Australia. Ms. Wertenbaker’s play, inspired by journal accounts by the actual officers on this voyage, tells how Royal Governor Arthur Phillip appointed 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Clark to stage a play using some of the convicts, with the hopes that such an experience would civilize and rehabilitate these crude, violent men and women.Read More
Seven Guitars – Court Theatre
Court Theatre’s “Seven Guitars” is one of the best looking productions I have ever seen. The scenery, designed by Regina Garcia, perfectly re-creates a Pittsburg urban environment circa 1948, with dirt-encrusted floors and brick buildings, pale lightbulbs dangling from wires, and tables and chairs with waning varnish; the costuming, by Christine Pascual, captures the color tones and patterns of ’40s clothing wonderfully; and the play’s complex lighting, by Marc Stubblefield, ties it altogether, beautifully complementing the play’s ambiguity with smoky dusks and shadows.Read More
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg by Peter Nichols is the story of Brian and Sheila, a married couple who have grown cynical with their lives as the parents of a 10 year old girl with Cerebral Palsy. Their daughter Josephine, or Joe for short, is so disabled she does no more than moan and shake her arms. During this day in the play, Brian teeters on the brink of making a life or death decision for his daughter. With some very dark comedic moments skillfully performed by the cast, this show creates an authentic environment to spark conversation about quality of life issues for the severely disabled.Read More
Mr. Shaw Goes to Hollywood
George Bernard Shaw and his lovely wife Charlotte have decided to stop at Hollywood’s MGM Studios for a luncheon meeting as part of their 1933 round-the-world tour. The day was apparently fraught with all kinds of difficulties, from their emergency airplane landing on Malibu Beach, hitching a harrowing ride with a young UCLA student and exchanging barbs, zingers and clever witticisms with John Barrymore, Ann Harding and Louis B. Mayer. The luncheon, hosted by William Randolph Hearst and his young actress/mistress Marion Davies, also included Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin but neglected Shaw’s dietary requirements. GBS was a strict vegetarian and Miss Davies was hard-pressed to find a vegetable anywhere on the MGM lot; however, even though it was during Prohibition, there was plenty of bootleg booze flowing throughout the day.Read More
The Children’s Hour – Pride films and plays
Kids should be believed unconditionally if and when they confide secrets to the adults they trust, right? In what would become her first hit play, Lillian Hellman examines the tragedy that results from a devastating secret and the subsequent gossip that follows. Ultimately it’s revealed that this secret is nothing more than a vindictive lie, but by then the damage has become irreversible.Read More
Sweet Smell of Success
In 1952 New York City a small-time performer could suddenly become a big name celebrity overnight, thanks to newspaper columnists like JJ Hunsecker. His subtle, enigmatic mention in his column of a venue, an event or an up-and-coming star was akin to someone appearing in today’s National Enquirer, on TV shows like TMZ or sounding off on Twitter. Into Hunsecker’s world comes aspiring young press agent Sidney Falco who hungers for the same power and prestige. When JJ’s pretty younger sister Susan, whom he feels he must protect and shelter, falls in love with Dallas Cochran, a talented but struggling young pianist, Hunsecker promises to help Sidney’s career if he’ll destroy their relationship. JJ’s corrupt influence and control infuses this story of absolute power corrupting absolutely.Read More
End of the Rainbow
In a lavish London hotel suite dominated by a baby grand and high windows (that later transform into the venue where the singing legend performed her final concert), Judy Garland, played to perfection by Chicago musical theatre actress Hollis Resnik, bursts onto the scene, sinks her teeth and claws into this production and never lets go until the end. Sharing the stage with the two men currently in her life, her young fiancee and manager Mickey Deans and Anthony, her long-time British accompanist, Ms. Resnik isn’t merely an actress in a role. She IS Judy Garland and this show belongs exclusively to her.Read More