An unusual motherhood challenge

 

Kate Fry, Grace Smith, Casey Morris in Mother of the Maid at Northlight Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow.)
Kate Fry, Grace Smith, Casey Morris in Mother of the Maid at Northlight Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow.)

‘Mother of the Maid’

2 1/2 stars

The story of Joan of Arc, spelled in her home country of France as Jeanne d’Arc and also called “The Maid of d’Orléans,” has inspired numerous sculptures, musical works, books and films. Among the best plays is George Bernard Shaw’s classic “Saint Joan” which premiered in 1923, three years after the Roman Catholic Church canonized her.

A age 19, she was burned at the stake for heresy stake in 1431 after continuing to claim visions of Saint Catherine of Alexandria (and other saints). Her successes in leading French troops against the English during the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years’ War had worried powerful people in the government and church so when captured by a French faction friendly to the English she was put on trial by Pierre Cauchon, a pro-English bishop.

What playwright Jane Anderson has done in “Mother of the Maid,” now playing at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, is zoom in on Joan’s mother, Isabelle Romée. Born in a peasant family of northeastern France, Joan’s name comes from her father, Jacques d’Arc.

The idea of examining how her family reacted to her visions and particularly how her mother worried  and coped with unusual challenges  may arguably form the basis of a fine play.

However, the work on stage at Northlight has contrived dialogue infused with current language trends and moves from one stilted scene to another.

DETAILS: “The Mother of the Maid” is at Northlight Theatre in the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, through Oct. 20, 2019. Running time: about 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 676-6300 or visit Northlight.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Members of an Exclusive Club

 

Past presidents discuss events and each other in American Blues Theater's 'Five Presidents.' (Photo courtesy of American Blues Theater.)
Past presidents discuss events and each other in American Blues Theater’s ‘Five Presidents.’ (Photo courtesy of American Blues Theater.)

‘Five Presidents’

3 stars

Rick Cleveland’s fictionalized docudrama, which is generously laced with comic zingers and one-liners that lighten the subject, imagines a 90-minute get-together between past presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and the current “Leader of the Free World”, Bill Clinton.

The year is 1994 and the setting is a gathering room in the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, CA, tastefully designed by Grant Sabin and nicely lit by Alexander Ridgers.

The occasion for this meeting is the funeral of President Richard Nixon. Even though these five men would’ve greeted each other on this occasion, it’s unlikely that they spent an hour and a half talking together about so many different topics.

For most of the play, the five living members of this exclusive club banter about each other’s faults and failings and recite  the various foreign and domestic policies that each President passed while in office.

The one plot point that runs throughout the play is that President Ford has decided he no longer wants to deliver his portion of Nixon’s eulogy but the other four try to convince him otherwise.

President Regan keeps offering to come to the rescue by volunteering to speak extemporaneously. However, the other men are aware that Reagan is in the onset of Alzheimer’s and understand how disastrous his eulogy might be.

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Be careful what you wish for

 

Cast of Into the Woods at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Cast of Into the Woods at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

3 ½ stars

In Act II of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” the Baker and Cinderella, two of four main fairy-tale characters who survive the whole, Hamlet-like second act (Little Red and Jack (of beanstalk fame are the other two), explain that choices have consequences and everyone is connected in “No One Is Alone.”

It the characters sound like those folks encountered during childhood bedtime stories they may possibly come to life for some audience members during Act I. but that familiarity ends when Sondheim who composed the music and lyrics and Lapine who wrote the book, offers a scathing reality check in Act II.

The musical, garnering several Tony Awards including Best Score and Best Book when premiering on Broadway in 1987, pulls a moralistic, anti-happily after plot from stories primarily conceived  or popularized by 17th century French fairy-tale founder Charles Perraultan (“Cinderella,”  Little Red Riding Hood”) and 19th century German folklore authors and collectors, the Brothers Grimm (Rapunzel, Snow White).  “Jack and the Beanstalk” is an English Fairy tale popularized by Joseph Jacobs started out n 1734 as “The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean.”

It all starts with “Rapunzel”  when a husband steals veggies called rampion or rapunzel from the garden of a next-door neighboring witch to make his pregnant wife happy. The witch catches him and makes a deal to leave the couple alone if they will give her theirthe baby to raise. This story is uncovered when that man’s son, the Baker, and his wife are lonely without children and learn it’s because of the witch’s curse.

And so the musical is about what people wish for and their journey to achieve it. The witch tells them the curse will be removed if the couple brings her a “cow as white as milk, cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and slipper as pure as gold” in three days.

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Perfect Junie B Jones timing: How to overcome school problems

Cast of Junie B Jones at Marriott Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)
Cast of Junie B Jones at Marriott Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

3 stars

In her Junie B Jones stories, children’s author Barbara Park found interesting solutions to problems youngsters face at school. Which means that “Junie B. Jones, The Musical,” put together by the “Dear Edwina” team of Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, is perfect for youngsters to see right before school starts this fall.

Now at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire just through Aug. 11, 2019, the show is for all elementary-middle school youngsters.

On the first day of school, Junie B encounters problems right away on the bus when her best friend from last year now has two other best friends so won’t sit with her.

Once at school, Junie B doesn’t understand why she can’t read words on the board. She’ll have to wear glasses but what will her classmates think and say.

And the problems keep happening.

Elizabeth Telfore is a terrific Junie B. Adam LaSalle is great as her piano-playing day (and teacher Mr. Scary and others). Rashada Dawan is perfect as mom, (and the cafeteria cook and others).

Marriott shows, whether for a general or young audience, always have excellent voices and choreography. “Junie B” is no exception.

But the reason to take youngsters to the show is for them to see that there are ways to work through things that sometimes go wrong at school.

DETAILS: “Junie b. Jones, the Musical,” is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. Running time: 1 hour. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 or visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

When comedy expresses pain at ‘International Falls’

 

Sean Higgins and Marie Weigle ( Pphoto by Katie Reynolds)
Sean Higgins and Marie Weigle ( Pphoto by Katie Reynolds)

4 stars

Set in a Holiday Inn hotel room in International Falls, Minnesota, traveling comedian Tim has come to the end of the road while front desk clerk Dee wants to escape her life. Together they explore the use of comedy to mask their sadness and express their pain.

Tim (Sean Higgins) shares his unsuccessful quest to find his own unique voice and urges Dee (Marie Weigle) to find hers, stressing that honesty and authenticity is what is important.

In “International Falls,” playwright Thomas Ward evidently understands that struggle and has clearly met the challenge writing some of the most authentic and honest dialogue I have ever heard on stage.

Presented by by the Agency Theater Collective in partnership with End of the Line Production, Ward’s brilliant dialogue comes to life as spoken by Higgins and Weigle. You feel like you are sitting in their hotel room witnessing the events unfold.

Higgins’ cringingly awkward stand-up asides are perfectly painful and his obvious discomfort with himself combined with false bravado is portrayed with appropriate nuance.

Weigle’s pent up frustration, emerging confidence and vulnerability is palpable but never goes over the top.

The blocking was seamless and meaningful.

The naturalness of the actors can only be achieved when they have a critical eye assuring them that what they are doing is right.

Director Cody Lucas clearly gets credit for pulling this small ensemble together into a beautiful unified performance. Orchestrating the emotional level with symphonic accuracy, Lucas dials up the emotions to peak levels that never gets shrill, then dials them back down to create a needed contrast that keeps the audience engaged and caring about the characters.

This voyeuristic experience is further enhanced by the intimate setting of the Nox Arca Theatre which is actually a small industrial space on the 5th floor of a concrete loft building on the corner of Irving Park in the Ravenswood corridor. Scenic Designer Soli Eisenberg has done a brilliant job of incorporating the natural elements of the room to create the effect.

By the way the music mix before the show began was awesome.

DETAILS: “International Falls” is at Nox Arca Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave, #405. Chicago, through August 31, 2019. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and information visit We Are the Agency.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago