‘Undeniable Sound’ is undeniably worth seeing

Henry Greenberg (Jeff Mills) and Lena (Lindsay Stock) in Undeniable Sound of Right Now at Raven Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Henry Greenberg (Jeff Mills) and Lena (Lindsay Stock) in Undeniable Sound of Right Now at Raven Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 Stars

 There is so much to like about “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” by Laura Eason at the Raven Theatre in Edgewater. It’s a snapshot of one of the many evolutionary changes that is inevitable in a growing and vibrant city.

Set in the fall of 1992 Hank (Jeff Mills), the owner of a Chicago dive bar, slash, live music venue, is in the autumn of his career in the midst of evolving musical tastes and gentrification that threaten everything he has built.

Hank has two great loves – live music and his twenty-one year old daughter Lena (Lindsay Stock) who grew up above the club and shares her dad’s enthusiasm for music.

Lena is anxious to expand her horizons to include the emerging style of “house,” a genre of electronic dance music of the era created in Chicago that features D.J.’s as the curators of the musical experience.

Her dad is a traditionalist who feels that D.J.’s are not musicians and that electronic music is in opposition to the live music he has championed for twenty-five years.

Thus the conflict is established,. It plays out in the confines of a neighborhood tavern that, like its owner, is definitely showing its wear.

The set design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec and decorated by Lacie Hexom is reminiscent of the many neighborhood watering holes that once dotted the Chicago map from north to south in this working class city.

In the earlier half of the 20th century Chicago boasted 10,000 “shot and a beer” joints. Most have closed or been converted to fern bars and pubs.  Those that survived like Hank’s are loved-to-death by countless elbows, decorated through neglect and illuminated with the ever present twinkling strand or two of Christmas lights.

These establishments retain and reflect a bit of each of the individuals and groups that made this particular venue their social hub, and Hank’s clientele have indeed left their unique mark on this location.

But neighborhoods, music, and people change; and we are all forced to face the changes that are an inevitable part of growing up and growing older. What is undeniable is the here-and-now and the sounds it makes.

Hank has little patience for nostalgia and no stomach for being viewed as a legend. The question is how do you confront the end of an era?

The story involves non-traditional family relationships and various forms of love which in this case includes Hank’s longtime, off-again on-again, salt-of-the-earth girlfriend, Bette (Dana Black), who accepted the role of surrogate mother in the absence of Lena’s birth mother

It is clear the two women have a true affection for each other which was all the more poignant on the Mother’s Day performance I attended.

Jeff Mills in the Undeniable Sound of Right Now at Raven Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Jeff Mills in the Undeniable Sound of Right Now at Raven Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

Stock is spot on and perfectly embodies the role of Lena who is smart, savvy and charismatic. It is no wonder that she is adored by her “parents” as well as the club manager, Toby (Christopher Acevedo), the landlord’s son Joey (Casey Morris),  and Nash (Henry Greenberg) the up-and-coming D.J. each vying in one way or another for her attention.

No doubt casting director Kanome Jones made Director BJ Jones’ life a little easier by providing an outstanding ensemble.

Eason has done a terrific job of juggling a number of ideas yet pulling it all together into one well-crafted unified whole. She understands Hank’s reluctance to turn over the reins and sympathetically advocates for the youthful exuberance of Nash and Lena.

Meanwhile the supporting roles of Bette, Toby, and Joey are fully fleshed characters with their own important contributions to the plot. Her dialogue is authentic and at times emotional without becoming saccharine.

When I don’t know much about a play I try to keep it that way until I see it. This was surprisingly different than what I expected, thinking it was going to be more of a jukebox musical.

It does have some recorded music as background as well as a few short riffs and verses admirably played on guitar by Mills – choices of sound designer Lindsay Jones. Music is integral to the story but it is not a musical.

If you are afraid that the indie music rock scene is not a genre you understand or enjoy do not let this dissuade you. The theme of the story is universal and the musical references are incidental. This can be any time period and any inter-generational conflict.

I predict this production will be deemed Jeff worthy with special recognition of Lindsay Stock and maybe BJ Jones and Kmiec as well.

Don’t miss this one. If you have experience with an aging business owner, a music maker, or someone affected by change that they feared or were reluctant to face this will likely resonate with you.

DETAILS: “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” is at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago through June 16, 2019. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and information call (773) 338-2177 and visit raventheatre.com.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

This ‘Hellcab’ not worth the ride

(left to right) Adam Mengesha, Jack Schultz, Audrey Gladson and Regina Linn (Photo by Katie Reynolds)
(left to right) Adam Mengesha, Jack Schultz, Audrey Gladson and Regina Linn
(Photo by Katie Reynolds)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

This popular play by Will Kern has been trotted out by several companies since its debut in the nineteen- nineties and was even made into a movie in 1998.

“Hellcab” is comprised of a number of vignettes all taking place within the confines of a cab trolling the streets of Chicago during an evening leading up to the Christmas holiday.

There are highs and lows, there is happiness and sadness, violence and love. Some people are in good cheer, others not so much.  Through each experience the stoic cabbie (in this case played by Regina Linn) absorbs the emotional impact of each encounter. Read More

Sneak Peak at theater season: Part Four Ravenswood and North

Black Ensemble Theater has an excellent venue at 4450 N. Clark St. (Black EnsembleTtheater photo)
Black Ensemble Theater has an excellent venue at 4450 N. Clark St. (Black Ensemble Ttheater photo)

The old “It’s hard to keep track without a scorecard” certainly applies to Chicago’s huge theater offerings each year. So consider the “Sneak Peak”series your personal scorecard where you can put a check next to those shows you think you would like to see.

Because there are more than 200 theater production companies in the Chicago area the series is divided into regions. Not all companies are listed because some still have to finalize their season and not all theater venues are included because some are multi-purpose and host several events other than plays.  However, the series still is a way to find out what a company you like has planned and what shows will be coming in the 2018-19 season.

As mentioned before, some companies and venues use theater and others use  theatre. Part Four lists many of the companies in the Ravenswood and north to Evanston region.

 

Black Ensemble Theater

Located at 4450 N Clark St., Black Ensemble is currently doing “Rick Stone: the Blues Man,” extended through Sept 9, followed by “Women of Soul” Oct. 20 –Dec.2, 2018.

For tickers and other information call (773) 769-4451  and visit Black Ensemble Theater.

 

The Factory Theater,

The venue is at 1623 W. Howard. St. The Factory Theater plans “The Darkness After Dawn” for Fall, “.38 and Baile” for Spring and “Prophet$” for Summer. Also in the venue, the Aleatoric Theatre is doing “Come ‘n Go” Sept. 7-30.

For tickets and other information visit The Factory Theatre and Aleatoric Theatre.

 

Griffin Theatre

The theatre is at  5405 N. Clark St. Griffin is currently doing  “The Harvest” through Aug. 25.  For tickets and other information call (773) 769-2228 and visit Griffin  Theatre.

 

Lifeline Theatre

The theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave. is doing “Frankenstein” Sep.t 7-Oct. 28, 2018  then in 2019, “The Man Who Was Thursday”  Feb. 15-Apr. 7 and “Emma” May 24-July 14.

For tickets and other information call (773) 761-4477 and visit Lifeline Theatre. Read More

‘Suddenly Last Summer’ is crazy good

(L to R) Wardell Julius Clark, Ayanna Bria Bakari, Grayson Heyl, Ann James and Andrew Rathgeber in Raven Theatre's Suddenly Last Summer. (Michael Brosilow photo)
(L to R) Wardell Julius Clark, Ayanna Bria Bakari, Grayson Heyl, Ann James and Andrew Rathgeber in Raven Theatre’s Suddenly Last Summer. (Michael Brosilow photo)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Catherine Holly (Grayson Heyl) is declared insane for recounting details related to the horrific death of her cousin Sebastian Venable while the two vacationed in a Latin-American beach resort.

It all happened, “Suddenly Last Summer” and no one, especially her aunt, Mrs. Violet Venable (Mary K. Nigohosian), Sebastian’s mother, wants to believe it.

The aging socialite, Mrs. Venable, invites Dr. Cukrowicz a/k/a Dr. Sugar (Wardell Julius Clark) to interview the suspected mad woman to assess whether or not she is a candidate for a lobotomy. The operation would erase the abhorrent memory and preserve the reputation of the beloved Sebastian.

Though the action takes place in a misty New Orleans garden, this is essentially a drawing room drama that plays out much like a whodunit with Dr. Sugar slowly extracting the details that reveal the shocking truth.

Skillfully written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Jason Gerace, the 90 minute production moves along swiftly in the capable hands of this Raven Theatre ensemble.

The play employs themes of mental illness and includes the prototypical characters of the delusional matriarch and the sensitive, often confused ingénue familiar to such other Williams works as “Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie.”

This is simply a good solid play well performed.

Full of Southern charm, I suggest you invite a friend to go with you, then afterwards head over to Big Jones in Andersonville, Jimmy’s Pizza Café (at Lincoln & Foster), or Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Lincoln Square for fresh beignets and coffee to complete the New Orleans experience.

DETAILS: “Suddenly Last Summer” is at the Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St. (at Granville), Chicago, through June 17, 2018.  For tickets and more information call (773) 338-2177 or visit Raven Theatre.

Reno Lovison  (RenoWeb.net) and About Guest Reviewers

 

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

1984 Thirty-three Years Later

Highly Recommended

George Orwell’s famous novel, “1984,” is likely to haunt audiences in AstonRep Theatre Company’s interpretation of the story, now at The Raven Theatre.

The production is powerful and provocative as wonderfully convincing characters transport the audience to the frightening nation of Oceania.

Adapted by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr. and William A. Miles Jr. and directed by Robert Tobin,  the play mentions and defines Orwell’s phrases such as the famed “Big Brother is watching you.”

Sarah Lo (Julia) and Ray Kasper (Winston) in AstonRep Theatre Company's '1984' at The Raven Theatre. Photo by Emily Schwartz
Sarah Lo (Julia) and Ray Kasper (Winston) in AstonRep Theatre Company’s ‘1984’ at The Raven Theatre. Photo by Emily Schwartz

Then there is “Newspeak” as the official politically correct language of Oceania, “Crimethink” for thoughts that oppose the government of Big Brother, “Goodthink” that are thoughts approved by the Party and “Doublethink” for the power to simultaneously hold and accept contradictory beliefs in one’s mind.

On that subject of power, the Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language.

The leading character, Winston Smith, is played by Ray Kasper whose amazing talent covers a wide range of emotion.  Winston is a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London in the land of Oceania.

Everywhere Winston goes, the Party watches him through telescreens.  And everywhere he looks, Winston sees the face of the Party’s seemingly supreme leader, Big Brother.

Frustrated by the rigid oppression of the Party which prohibits free thinking and all other expressions of individuality, Winston writes his criminal thoughts in his illegally purchased diary.

He interacts with a beautiful co-worker, Julia, skillfully played by Sarah Lo.  Practical and optimistic, Julia becomes Winston’s lover.

The two of them move into a room above a store where they temporarily feel hidden from the watchful eyes of Big Brother.  As Winston’s love for Julia progresses, his hatred for the Party grows more intense.

Winston becomes fixated on O’Brien, a mysterious upper class member of the Inner Party, powerfully portrayed by Amy Kasper.  Winston believes O’Brien is a secret member of the Brotherhood, the legendary group that works to overthrow the Party.

He finally receives the message that he has been waiting for. O’Brien wants to see him.

Winston and Julia travel to O’Brien’s grand apartment where O’Brien is living a life of luxury. O’Brien sends Winston off with a copy of the manifesto of the Brotherhood which Winston excitedly reads to Julia in their room above the store.

Not to divulge the rest of the play to those unfamiliar with Orwell’s novel, Winston learns the bitter truth about many of the characters.  The suffering he endures in the terrifying second act changes him forever.

The remainder of the very talented cast includes the following: Alexandra Bennett, Lauren Demerath, Lorraine Freund, Ian Harris, Rory Jobst, Tim Larson, Nora Lise Ulrey, and Sara Pavlak McGuire.

To quote director Robert Tobin: “. . . the power of ‘1984’ serves best not necessarily as commentary on current events but rather as a warning.  Like a preventative medical screening, we need ‘1984’ as warning of what our world could become if we don’t take care of ourselves, our government, and each other.”

Details: ‘1984,  an AstonRep Theatre Company production is at  The Raven Theatre (West Stage), 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago, through Oct. 8, 2017. For tickets and other information call (773) 828-9129 and visit AstonRep.

Francine Pappadis Friedman