Review

Stage Shorts: Four Plays About Memory, Love and Disaster at Eclectic, Cuckoo’s and Pride

Welcome to Stage Shorts, our feature that highlights current plays at Chicago’s storefront theaters. It’s our way of covering more of Chicago’s theatrical productions and giving you more choices in the plays you can see. Check out this column of mini-reviews to keep up to date on all the latest offerings. This week we have an absurdist play by Eclectic Full Contact Theater, a dramedy at Cuckoo’s Theater Project, and a new play matched with a classic in repertory at Pride Films and Plays.

Savegnago and Gasparro in Fuddy Meers. Photo courtesy Eclectic Theatre.

Fuddy Meers by Eclectic Theatre Is Absurdist …. and Silly 

David Lindsay-Abaire’s Fuddy Meers is an absurdist comedy about a woman suffering a form of amnesia from an accident that results in her learning things one day and forgetting everything overnight. It’s Groundhog Day forever for her. The play is warm, witty—and very silly. Eclectic Full Contact Theatre’s new production, directed by Katherine Siegel, features a cast of seven. Jeremy Hollis’ set design is composed of a kitchen, a bedroom and a basement, not all in the same home. Scenes performed in each space are highlighted by Taylor Sorrel’s lighting design.

Richard (Joe Cattoggio) wakes up his wife Claire (Lisa Savegnago) each morning with a list of things he needs to tell her about. Her name, his name, their relationship, the name and age of their teenage son Kenny (Frank Gasparro). Richard has prepared a scrapbook for Claire, so that she can use it to refresh her memory each morning. If the story were that simple, it would not be absurdist or as silly. But enter Limping Man or Zach or Philip (Andrew Pond) who might be Claire’s brother. Her mother Gertie (Suzy Krueckeberg) has had a stroke and can only speak in stroketalk (which explains the play’s title, her pronunciation of “funny mirrors”). Other characters are involved too, at least one of them playing an already silly role in an over-the-top manner. (That would be Millet (Kirk Osgood), who has a close relationship with his sock puppet, Hinky Binky> He also needs to be given some notes by the director.) Gasparro as Kenny is the most human and authentically humorous of the characters, while Savegnago as Claire and Krueckeberg as Gertie succeed as sympathetic moms.
 
Fuddy Meers runs 105 minutes with no intermission. You can see it through July 8 at the Athenaeum, 2936 N. Southport. Tickets are $25-30 for performances Thursday.

–Nancy Bishop

The cast of Barbecue Apocalypse. Photo by Zen Orchid Photography.

Barbecue Apocalypse at Cuckoo’s Theater Project Follows Freneticism With Cataclysm

In Matt Lyle’s Barbecue Apocalypse, three couples gather in a suburban backyard to catch up, talk trash, and eat some burgers. There’s struggling writer Mike (Kyle Burch) and his wife Deb (Emily Lindberg) who are nervously hosting the affair, hipster clichés Ash (Daniel Shtivelberg) and Lulu (Elena Tubridy) who find everything from their sex life to twitter as fodder for public arguments, and resident jerk Win (Felix Abidor) who’s brought his new, hot young actress girlfriend Glory (Ashley Greenwood) for everyone to gawk at. As they all circle old fights and reveal hidden grievances, it becomes increasingly clear that their relationship woes are the least of this group’s troubles. In a clever twist on the “group of friends dramedy” trope, Barbecue Apocalypse drops its characters right at the beginning of a civilization-ending cataclysm, and, in a brief second act, explores the same couples within a post-apocalyptic suburbia.

Freneticism is the name of the game here. Jokes fly fast, and director Marc James paces the proceedings with physical comedy and scrappy skirmishes. Frustratingly though, so much here is overplayed by the company that it’s hard to zoom in on some of the broader social satire at play. And though act one ends with some promise, there’s something missing from act two’s practically plotless inversion of established dynamics. The cast is largely likable, but I couldn’t help thinking that the majority of them were a tad young to play cynics in their mid-thirties. Bart O’Toole’s transforming backyard set is a highlight here, and there’s fun to be had by anyone that enjoys their comedies with a sardonic edge. But Cuckoo’s revival misses on more opportunities than it lands, which leaves for a fun, albeit unbalanced trip to society’s end.
 
Barbecue Apocalypse runs until July 21 at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston. Tickets are $30.

— Matthew Nerber

Beck and Baiocchi as Alex and Nick. Photo by David Zak.

Pink Orchids at Pride Films and Plays: Charming Set of Monologues About Living With HIV in the 21st Century

Alex, an actor, meets Nick, an accountant, in a London bar. There’s a definite attraction. Then Nick, wanting to acknowledge his condition to a prospective sex partner, says that he’s HIV positive. Alex becomes a bit skittish and backs away. Later Alex (Jerome Beck) uses that experience in auditioning for a play being produced by Barney (Nick Dorado) about HIV and its impact on the lives of its victims and those around them. Alex is the first in a series of four monologues that make up Pink Orchids, a cleverly structured play by Patrick Cash. It’s a funny, charming 80-minute exploration of the AIDS crisis today. Irene (Kathleen Puls Andrade), an Irish nurse, cares for Barney’s boyfriend, Eric, who is suffering late stage AIDS. She sees to it that he gets an occasional mojito. (Eric, who we never meet, likes pink orchids as well as mojitos.) Later Nick (Don Baiocchi) considers his life choices (“I did everything expected of me. I went to university. I got a job that pays well….”) and his diagnosis. He and Alex meet again at Eric’s memorial, where Barney begins his monologue.

Each actor uses the monologue to create a scene in which other voices are represented. Only in the last few minutes of the play do the three men—Alex, Nick and Barney—meet and carry on a dialogue. Brennan T. Jones’ direction results in fine performances by the four actors. Beck and Andrade create particularly appealing characters. Evan Frank’s set design and Blake Cordell’s lighting create the scenic backdrop of a posh nightclub where pink orchids glow.
 
Pink Orchids premiered last year in London with the title The HIV Monologues. The play continues at the Buena at the Pride Arts Center, 4147 N. Broadway, through July 7. Tickets are $25-30.

— Nancy Bishop

Halverson, Alesia and McRae. Photo by David Zak.

The Green Bay Tree at Pride Films and Plays: Drawing Room Comedy Misses Its 1933 Sizzle

The Green Bay Tree is a landmark British drama by Mordaunt Shairpe that premiered in London’s West End in 1933 and on Broadway later that year. The story of a handsome young man, torn between his fiancée and  the lifestyle offered by his male mentor, was a scandalous hit in both cities and made a star of its leading actor, Laurence Olivier. The play’s gay subtext was subtle enough to escape censorship in London. Now on view at Pride Films and Plays and directed by Amy L. Sarno, The Green Bay Tree is mannered in the drawing room comedy style and has some puzzling plot points. Originally set in London’s Mayfair, the current adaptation moves to Chicago and adds local references. (It’s not clear why.)

Dulcimer (Alexander McRae) is a wealthy man of leisure and taste (an Oscar-Wildeish figure) who adopted Julian (Bradley Halverson) when he was a young boy living with his drunken father. When the play opens in Dulcimer’s drawing room, his fastidious manservant Trump (Buzz Leer) is preparing for his master’s arrival. Julian, also a young man of leisure, arrives from his day’s activities and tells Dulcimer that he has fallen in love with Leonora, a veterinarian (charmingly played by Kristen Alesia). (How did he meet a veterinarian? There’s a puppy involved.) Thus the vicious triangle is set up. Dulcimer shows his claws and puts obstacles in the way of the pending marriage, even announcing that Julian’s allowance will end. With Leonora, Julian visits his father (Gary Smiley), now inexplicably a preacher living in Bridgeport, and decides to move in with him while he studies to join Leonora in the vet business and build a life away from Dulcimer’s clutches. The play’s surprising conclusion ends Julian’s problems but you may still be perplexed about those plot points.

Evan Frank’s set design is enhanced by Blake Cordell’s lighting and sound design. Noel Huntzinger has designed elegant costumes for Julian and Dulcimer as well as for Leonora.

The Green Bay Tree  (running time two hours plus intermission) continues in repertory with Pink Orchids at the Buena, Pride Films and Plays, 4147 N. Broadway, through July 8. Tickets are $25-30; you can also call 866-811-4111 to order. The last three plays in the Pride Art Center’s Pride Fest are Fucking Men (adapted from Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 La Ronde), July 1-August 25; Hurricane Damage by Kevin Brofsky, August 1-26; and Holding the Man by Tommy Murphy, August 5-26.

— Nancy Bishop

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