Wednesday, December 27, 2006
by Mary Shen Barnidge
It was the year when a single weekend might have over a dozen plays clamoring for the press’ attention. For example, there were the road shows that filled the downtown playhouses, selling out months in advance. And there was also Victory Gardens opening the doors of its new facility at the legendary Biograph Theater, becoming the Chicago theatre community’s leading landlord, with five stages under two roofs.
Oh, and for playgoers ( like me ) who find the more—uh, mature—men and women sexy, it was the year when the old blokes and broads showed their mettle—and sometimes their naughty bits, too.
That said, here are some of the shows ( and parts, thereof ) that made my job a pleasure in 2006:
The Coast of Chicago ( Walkabout Theater at the Water Tower ) . Chicago ethnographic history came alive for audiences in a landmark space right in the middle of the tourist district.
Lear ( Goodman Theatre ) . Five old men dancing a tarantella in the rain to the dionysic beat of the Rolling Stones—this was “epic theatre” like Brecht never imagined.
Fellow Travelers ( Stage Left ) . Not just another holocaust drama, but a an intimate tale of an expatriate artist living with the shameful secret of his survival.
Mother Courage And Her Children ( Vitalist Theatre ) . The Thirty-Years-War galloped along at vaudeville-pace on a panoramic scale, and only eight actors stepped out for curtain call.
Gaudy Night ( Lifeline Theatre ) . Dorothy Sayers’ thriller assembled the environs of Oxford University’s Women’s College and distinguished alumnae thereof, all on Lifeline’s tiny stage.
House of Blue Leaves ( Shattered Globe ) . Thirty-five years after its premiere, a group of young artists found empathy and coherence in John Guare’s madcap look at 1965 America.
Argonautika ( Lookingglass ) . After treading water in recent years, Mary Zimmerman and her pals come back with the kind of imaginative spectacle that made their reputation.
American Buffalo ( Raven ) . Tone down the hyperadrenal rants that make young actors so love David Mamet and what do you find underneath but a family drama worthy of Eugene O’Neill?
And some individuals deserve recognition as well:
Smart Words: Margaret Lewis, Fellow Travelers ( Stage Left ) . Nicholas Patricca, Oh, Holy Allen Ginsberg, Oh Holy Shit Sweet Jesus Tantric Buddha Dharma Road ( Bailiwick ) . Frances Limoncelli, adaptation of Gaudy Night ( Lifeline Theatre ) . Laura Eason, adaptation of The Coast Of Chicago ( Walkabout ) . Ranjit Bolt, translation of Tartuffe ( Remy Bumppo ) .
Smart Direction: Sheldon Patinkin ( Sunset Limited, Steppenwolf ) , Ilesa Duncan ( Tick, Tick...Boom, Pegasus ) , Jessica Thebus ( The Clean House, Goodman ) .
Outstanding Ensembles: Willy’s Cut And Shine ( ETA ) , Another Part Of The House ( Teatro Vista ) , Funeral Wedding ( Scott Dray Productions ) , La Hija de La Llorona ( Aguijón Theatre ) , The Shakespeare Stealer ( Vittum Theatre ) , Desire Under The Elms ( GreyZelda ) , Orphans ( ReMiChi ) , Practical Anatomy ( Sansculottes ) .
Outstanding Tag Teams: Nick Sandys & Linda Gillum ( Tartuffe & The Real Thing, Remy Bumppo ) . Austin Pendleton & Freeman Coffey ( Sunset Limited, Steppenwolf ) . Kirsten Fitzgerald & Guy Van Swearingen ( The Sea Horse, Red Orchid ) . Doug McDade & Nigel Patterson ( Dealer’s Choice, Shattered Globe ) . Adrienne Cury & Jack Hickey ( Picnic, Oak Park Festival Theatre ) . David Parkes & Nigel Patterson ( The General From America, Timeline ) .
Outstanding Actors: Christopher Prentice ( The Zoo Story, Signal Ensemble ) , Chuck Likar ( Fellow Travelers, Stage Left ) , Elizabeth Rich ( The Duchess Of Malfi, Writers Theatre ) , Gary Houston ( Unchanging Love, Artistic Home ) , Jeff Radue ( Richard II, Actors Revolution Theatre ) . Karen Hill ( The Tempest, GroundUp Theatre ) , Christopher McLinden ( You Never Can Tell, ShawChicago ) , Marvin Edward Quijada ( Blind Mouth Singing, Teatro Vista ) .
Three Latina Criadonas: Stephanie Díaz ( Tartuffe, Remy Bumppo ) , Aemilia Scott ( Oh Holy Allan Ginsberg etc., Bailiwick ) , Guenia Lemos ( The Clean House, Goodman ) .
Special Pirates of the Caribbean award: Martin Yurek ( The Devil’s Disciple, ShawChicago ) .
Special Trippingly On The Tongue award: Ben Carleson ( Hamlet, Chicago Shakespeare ) .
Outstanding Lighting Design: Michael Phillipi ( Lear, Goodman ) .
Outstanding Sound Design: James Murray ( Unchanging Love, Artistic Home ) , Jason Demma & Ralph Sledge ( Florida Styx, Hypetia Theatre ) , Victoria DeIorio ( The Real Thing, Remy Bumppo ) , Richard Woodbury ( Lear, Goodman ) .
Outstanding Costume Design: Rachel Anne Healy ( Power, Remy Bumppo and The Chalk Garden, Northlight ) , Jacqueline Firkins ( The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove, Goodman ) , Laura M. Dana ( Seascape, Signal Ensemble ) , Tatjana Radisic ( The Duchess of Malfi, Writers Theatre ) .
Outstanding Set Dressing: Kevin Hagan and Arow Blackdragon ( House of Blue Leaves, Shattered Globe ) , Grant Sabin ( The Sea Horse, Red Orchid ) , Kris Stengrevics and Emily Schwartz ( Funeral Wedding, Scott Dray Productions ) , Craig Choma ( Mother Courage, Vitalist ) , Michael Menendian and Danni Quider ( American Buffalo, Raven ) , Kevin Hagan and Eileen Niccolai ( Dealer’s Choice, Shattered Globe ) .
Special Ultra-Violence award: Rick Sordelet ( Lear, Goodman ) , Matthew Hawkins ( Hatfield and McCoy, House Theatre ) .
Special Boat-in-the-Bottle award: Marathon ‘33 ( Strawdog ) .
Special Flora and Fauna award: Goblin horse ( Johnny Tremain, Lifeline Theatre ) , Singing raven ( The Snow Queen, Victory Gardens ) , entire cast of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi ( Lifeline Theatre ) .
Special AARP Pin-Up award: Stacy Keach ( Lear, Goodman ) , Richard Cotovsky ( Killers, Mary-Arrchie ) , Dawn Alden and Stephanie Repin ( Affair of Honor, Babes With Blades ) , Mark Richard ( A Room With A View, Lifeline ) .
And finally, an extra-special shout-out to the dialect coaches that made it all sound so good: Clare C. Hane ( Dealer’s Choice, Shattered Globe ) , Phil Timberlake ( Fellow Travelers, Stage Left ) , Kirsten D’Aurelio ( A Whistle In The Dark, Seanachai ) , Martin Aistrope ( The Night Heron, Steep Theatre ) , Eve Breneman ( Voyeurs de Venus at Chicago Dramatists, Unchanging Love at Artistic Home and The General From America at Timeline ) .
Sunday, December 03, 2006
I've been motivated today ... I don't know if it's the intense frigidity of this 18 degree weather or the bright sunshine on the snow or being under Kim's lights as she took pictures of me and my boy, Charlie ... but I'm feeling good. The sun's fallen to the west, but I'm still feeling good. Thank the gods, I'm feeling good.
We're sending out GreyZelda Holiday cards which I'm very excited about. Sarah Stec, as per usual, came up with a lovely design fitting into this year's brand campaign ... it's got your crow, it's got trees, it's got snowflakes ... it's sharp and it's coming to a mailbox near you ... which will be your mailbox. Send me your address, if I don't have it, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will write your address with the new silver sharpie I'm going to purchase for just this occasion. When we get the cards delivered here, I'll post Sarah's design, but, until then ... just know that it's awesome and I'm pleased with its grooviness. I'm going to send cards out to those who made life difficult for GZ this year ... because, in the end, those things have only helped to make us stronger.
I've read the plays proposed by company members, past and present ... there's one that I would be interested in pursuing, but to do it, I'd have to rip it apart as a puppy rips at your favorite pillow. It has to be deconstructed to work in the ways of GreyZelda. And, because it's written by an anarchist, you would think that would be acceptable. So, Lisa ... let's talk. I'll write you an email or call soon.
And, there's my little faerie play that's been in my back pocket for years ... there's this little Zelda flapper play that I might like to work on in an acting capacity ....
I'm getting headshots on Thursday taken by Michelle of Organic Headshots. Wish me luck! It's good to have updated headshots because you never know when you might need them. And, they're going to be color, for all you traditionalists out there. I like color.
GreyZelda always wins, as I said to someone very near and dear to me ... we took our own advice and will be maintaining its glory. There was some talk about changing the name to something very kick ass ... that may happen someday ... who knows ... but, for now, the little Grey Girl wins. And she's happy about it. I'm happy about it. Sir Mulch is happy about it. The other entity needs to win us over a little bit more before we make the move. He wasn't quite as charming as the morphing coquette.
2007's going to rock and roll in our own kind of way ... and I can't wait to grab a hold of it.
Monday, November 06, 2006
We discussed how this last year has gone ... we appointed Derek Jarvis in the early months of 2006 as our business director and he got a lot of our major paper work taken care of. Sarah Stec led us in creating a new branding campaign (logos, bookmarks, website, etc.) We performed two shows in 2006 - Desire Under the Elms and The Scarlet Letter. We also had a successful fundraiser at Four Moons which helped raise money for Scarlet. Financially, we haven't broken even and moving into 2007, we'll have to take that factor into consideration. Chris and I have paid for the majority of our productions out of pocket and that really drove us into the ground this year and how we'll have to be more creative in producing next year in our shows. However, we felt really great about the accomplishments and completed goals we were able to acheive in 2006.
We discussed potential show proposals for the 2007 season. We'll be having a fundraising/grants discussion meeting in the next couple of months, as well.
We also discussed some theatrical breaking of bread events that we'd like to have with other theatre companies in town. More news to come soon, dear theatre company friends ... we're really looking forward to this.
Meredith Lyons and Derek Jarvis stepped down from their duties as Marketing Director and Business Director, respectively. To be honest, we had a feeling that this was coming so weren't surpised. Derek has another theatre company, Promethean, that he has created and his first obligations go to them. We told him that he'll always have a place with GreyZelda if he ever wants it. He's still going to assist with business undertakings in the interim but we're going to start looking to fill those roles immediately. Meredith did a great job with our fundraiser, but the other responisibilities were too overwhelming to her with her professional schedule and personal obligations.
So, if you're interested in finding out more about those roles, please let us know! And, if you're interested in becoming involved with our theatre company just to be involved, we'd love to talk further with you about that, as well!
We really hope that GreyZelda will become more of an ensemble based theatre company that could allow itself to exist whether or not Chris and I were here to lead it, so that's going to be one of our major goals this year ... encouraging our members to really claim this company in whatever way they deem fit. Make it the superpower that it's longing to be! =)
There's more news to come, our dear Readers, but I just wanted to give you the breakdown.
Yours in all things creative,
Thursday, October 19, 2006
These Are a Few Of My Favorite Things ...
Current mood: Pondering
I'm on the hunt for the next inspiration ... I'm hoping to get an itch for something original, but need something to hit me over the head and I'm closing my eyes and waiting for that BONK!
So, I'll make a list ... I'll check it twice ... see which sparks are naughty or nice ...
* Crisp water
* A crystal sky
* A turkey buzzard's shadow
* Gaiman's World
* Tori's World
* Reality TV always makes me smile ....
* Rock and Roll / the Punk Mentality / DIY / natural rebelliousness with all out commitment
What else .... what else ....
GreyZelda friends and foes - let me know what makes your eye sparkle and your heart race! I'm at such an open place right now that the sky's the limit!
Friday, October 13, 2006
So, I just posted the following to the message board at Performink in response to an article written by Becky Brett.
What do you think about this issue, if anything? And, even if you don't think about it, why not? I'd love to start a discussion.
"I was so happy to see this article today as I think it's an excellent topic to open a discussion on.
'Why is it that so many theatres stick with the tried-and-true, when the medium has so much more to offer its audiences? Dare we ask the question and risk the flaming response: Are women..s stories just not as compelling as men..s?'
'Why do these female audiences not demand to see plays that look like them and speak to their experience?'
'No one interviewed pretends to be able to reach any conclusions, but it is important to raise the questions and re-start the discussion. However, many people had advice about how we may begin to develop more roles for women.'
I think that this subject is very touchy ... which is why no one wanted to answer conclusively probably. All the answers are going to be relative ... in my personal experience with Chicago theatre, I've often wondered what would happen if I was a man, based on reviews I've received where the term "feminist" was thrown around like a dirty word by male reviewers when our plays offered strong female leads that considered themselves equal to the men they were dealing with. My coartistic director and husband, Chris Riter, and I have often wondered what would happen if we had switched our names on the different directing projects we've worked on, what type of critical response we would have received ... would it have been the same, regardless of the director's gender? What would have happened if Chris had been the one to write the little opinionated blog that was penned in August that, unfortunately, was reproduced here in Performink and discussed for a spell ... with only males responding with a tone of wrist slapping - (it, honestly, made me feel about five years old at times) ... I've often thought of myself as an equalist, but I'm finding out quickly that it may be more important to continue the good fight of being a feminist.
So, yes, let's talk about this!
Naomi Wallace and Caryl Churchill are two playwrights that I can read tirelessly, by the way ...
Excellent article, Becky!
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Hello, friends of GreyZelda ...
The founding and producing members of GreyZelda, Chris Riter and me, Rebecca Zellar, have been living the calm life the last couple of weeks ... we closed The Scarlet Letter and are going to take a long awaited resting spell. We hope to have our annual GreyZelda meeting in the next few weeks, where we'll talk with our members about how this last year has gone, what we hope to do next year, and how we'll be able to go about achieving the goals we lay out.
GreyZelda's mission is probably going to go through a bit of an overhaul because of the insights and clarifications that were revealed this year. We're going to take a look at the audience we're hoping to reach and will really focus in on the influences that have helped shape us as artists.
There are a lot of ideas floating around in our brains that we're excited to share with our company members and Chicago ... so, stay tuned to our GreyZelda channel.
And, if you're wondering what to do here in this fine city of Chicago, may we suggest ...
1. Support the local, fringe theatre scene. See what you want to see. What you think will get your juices going. We're planning on seeing Midnight Hellhouse soon, which is happening at the Playground theatre (Halsted and Belmont) every October Friday night at midnight. Go get your souls saved.
2. Read a book that you want to read. To quote my high school english teacher, if you can't get into it after the first three pages, put it down, but for god's sake, Read!
3. See a flick with your favorite people ... Rebecca's current favorites are Little Miss Sunshine, Donnie Darko, and Dead Man.
4. Go see a concert .... we were supposed to go see a friend's band, Welcome to Ashley, last night, but became very cozy in our pad .... we mean to see more concerts in our GreyZelda hiatus.
5. Go see the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. They're in town.
6. Get the hell out of Chicago if you can and see what the rest of the country has to offer, naturally and culturally.
Rebecca and Chris
Thursday, September 21, 2006
All of the theatre practitioners I know would LOVE to be paid for their work, but, you know what? Do we do it for the pay or do we do it because we MUST do it? I know where the GreyZelda camp falls on that one.
"Lose your dreams and you will lose you mind . . . ain't life unkind?" Ruby Tuesday
Monday, September 18, 2006
We're all learning. We've all learned. This list is a great reminder for all of us swimming through the waters of our competitive art form in this competitive town. I read a blog today about building relationships in theatre and that a theatre professional shouldn't ever consider themselved "hired" until they're involved in a second show with a theatre company they're working with. I know that's very true on the GreyZelda end and we expect our actors, members and crew to follow these guidelines to help make the show and experience the best it can be.
"Introduction: Most directors, choreographers, designers, artistic directors, general managers, and other arts executives rise up through the ranks. Many remember the lessons learned on the way up the ladder, but it never hurts to hear from the front lines. 'He that won't be counseled can't be helped,' observed Ben Franklin. When a group of Equity and non-Equity actors gathered in Southern California, in the spirit of 'counseling and sharing,' they traded tips on surviving the highly competitve and financially perilous profession of theatre. This generally wise and sometimes wacky list of fourteen tips comprises:
1. Believe in instant karma.
What goes around will come around. Treat others exactly as you would like to be treated. Be kind and courteous. The tech person you step on today could be your producer or director tomorrow.
2. Avoid people who suck energy.
These people only give you permission to procrastinate. You are not the person who is losing if you miss a few social gatherings in order to work.
3. To read or not to read?
That is the question. The only answer? Read as many plays as possible. Be familiar with all types of writing. The more familiar you are with a play, the better your audition will be.
4. Leave your worries at the door!
Remember, the people you work with are not your therapists. Don't be so wrapped up in your personal problems that you let your frustrations impact your work.
5. Who died and made you king?
Nobody likes to hear a scolding "shhhh!" from another actor. Let adminishing the parties involved be handled by the stage manager or director. If they aren't present, remember that you catch more flies with honey, and be diplomatic.
6. Who died and made you Elia Kazan?
Never, ever, ever, ever, ever direct another actor in your show.
7. Respect the clock.
Be on time. Punctuality shows that you respect and value a person's time. Being late is rude. Show up ready to work.
8. Include time for yourself every day.
Treat yourself to a walk, a trip to the local nursery or a hot bath - you know, experience one of those International Coffee moments that can change your life.
9. 'We'll always have Utah.'
Falling for someone you work with intimately and for such a long time may be inevitable, especially in the veil of drama and 'make believe.' But rarely do these romances go beyond the run of the show.
10. Be kind to your dressers.
Actors need to worship costume designers, staff, and dressers. They make or break how you look every day on stage.
11. Make Makita a part of your method.
Offer to help with strike. Be a good sport. You will be remembered for being the kind of person you are to work with, not for the believability of your page twenty-six speech on Thursday night.
12. Know thyself.
Avoid making life-changing decisions under stress, pressure, or on the spot. Make your decisions on your own time. Be clear in your own mind about what you want and what your willing to do to get it - before you go in!
13. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.
Go beyond basic preparation of the required or expected workload. Anticipate possible negative outcomes and have contigency plans.
14. Build support . . . six degrees of separation.
You can never know too many people. You can never be nice enough to people. You may be surprised at the small world of professional theatre."
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
To all you theatre promoters and producers out there:
You don't have to invite all the reviewers in Chicago. There's not a set rule. You don't have to please everyone. I learned from Larry Bommer at a panel discussion I attended a few months back that it's better to do your research on the reviewers you're wanting to invite, read what sort of reviews they write, decide who is worth it to invite, then invite that person. Sound and thoughtful words.
You Have the Power especially if you know how powerful words can be. If there are critics out there who write irresponsibly, just don't invite them.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Mulch and I will be venturing forth towards StageLeft in less than an hour, but I wanted to take a few minutes to give a quick "How do" and let you know the skinny on The Scarlet Letter.
Our audiences haven't been good, point blank. We thought people would like the Scarlet Letter. There's quite a bit of resentment, to tell the truth, about the book before people even enter the theatre. About half of our audience has entered the lobby with the "I hated The Scarlet Letter in high school" sentiment. My my my. And, the thing about The Scarlet Letter is that old and young have been required to read it during their high school years. It's been considered a Great Book for years, y'see. I know you know.
I was required to read it the summer before my senior year in high school along with The Chosen and The Handmaid's Tale. It took me a couple of tries to get used to the language, truth be told, and I always fancied myself a decent reader, so I found it strange that I was having a hard time with the rhythm. It is flowery, yes. Once I got into it, though, it, obviously became one of my favorites. I've never denied that I'm a geek or a reader.
So, is this a reflection upon the students? A reflection upon the teachers? A reflection upon Nathanial Hawthorne? Hawthorne had a hard time getting his stories to great success. He was friends with several people that went on to become quite famous, but never was able to jump on that bandwagon, even though he wanted to. He was roommates with Martin VanBuren, a president of ours, but that still didn't help matters in his world.
Anyway . . . it all culminates, on the producing end, in the fact that you can't say for sure, before a show gose up, what's going to work with your potential audience. We thought we might have good audiences because there's not tons of theatre happening right now, not tons of major Chicago events happening right now, and it's the time between most other theatre company's seasons. But, alack, alay, we haven't had many people.
Yeah, you've seen those reviews, but we hope that our audiences will give a show a fair shake regardless of what a sole opinion has to say. We had a guy from France come last Saturday and say, "Did you see that you received a bad review in the Trib?" and I said, "Yes." He said, "My friends didn't want to come see the show because of that reason, but I always loved the story and wanted to come. I thought it was a very powerful show and I'm sorry you received that review." So, we invite you to come, form your own opinions, talk to us about it if you feel inspired to do so or enraged to do so, so we can learn from your experience. It's a new show, after all. A calculated risk. I'd like, personally, to hear what you have to say and see how that could potentially be incorporated into our process for next time. I'm talking about constructive criticism here, folks, not bathroom humor.
Regardless, as far as the next show goes, we're going to have to sit tight for a little while because of the sheer money factor. That doesn't mean we're not going to do this and that, but . . . we'll have to sit tight, as prudence is dictating. Mulch and I are the primary donors to the GreyZelda Theatre Group and our pockets are billowing out of our pants right now. We're not worried. We don't want you, Dear Readers, to feel worried. It'll all get back on track, but this notch on the GreyZelda belt definitely is making things tight.
So, come see our show soon, please. Our actors need you. The company needs you.
It's two hours. You'll be able to go elsewhere as soon as 10pm rolls around. Our Hester Prynne rocks. The rest of the ensemble does really cool things. Miranda Sex Garden rocks if you like that kind of thing. It's two for one on Thursdays. Pay what you can Industry nights on Sundays. And only $15.00 the other evenings. And, if you're saying to yourself, shit, I ain't payin' that much for The Scarlet Letter, well . . . give me a call and we'll talk about it. I'd rather have your presence in the theatre than out of it. It's not a bad show. It's a GreyZelda show. And GreyZelda's pretty neat. If you like our kind of stuff. I always do.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Here's what Chicago has to say about GreyZelda's adaptation of The Scarlet Letter!
Kerry Reid of the Chicago Tribune says:
"Elizabeth Styles is a striking and dignified Hester . . ."
Tom Williams of ChicagoCritic.com says:
" . . . dramatic moments from Toby Minor as the tormented Dimmesdale."
" . . .witness Elizabeth Styless commandingly powerful performance as Hester Prynne. Meredith Rae Lyons added several effective scenes as the impish child Pearl."
"I admire the ambition . . . "
"Kudos to Greyzelda Theatre for stretching to present an original adaptation."
Kay Daly of Timeout Magazine says:
"This staging of Hawthornes novel of sin and redemption opens promisingly enough with a striking image: a tangle of actors entwined in a sort of living sculpture, groping hopelessly to move apart while staying connected. Its an evocative and eloquent symbol for Hawthornes New England: repressed, interdependent and hypocritical."
Jack Helbig of the The Chicago Reader says:
"Adapter-director Rebecca Zellar and the ensemble do a good job finding the drama . . . The acting is strong and many of the scenes are spare and pointed."
Barbara Vitello from the Daily Herald says:
"GreyZelda's version stands head and shoulders above Roland Joffé's spectacularly ill-conceived 1995 film starring the spectacularly mediocre Demi Moore as Hester Prynne."
"Rebecca Zellar remains faithful to Hawthorne. Her scrupulous adaptation keeps intact the novel's dialogue."
" . . . newcomer GreyZelda shows promise."
"The production also benefits from solid acting from its principals, especially Elizabeth Styles as an appropriately stoic Hester . . . Styles carries herself with the dignity and calm reserve Hawthorne's proto-feminist heroine demands. It is a quietly noble performance, capped off by an emotional, well-acted reunion with Toby Minor's Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale . . .Minor is passionate . . . "
"(Ron) Kuzava makes an especially effective predator."
"Lisa Baer stands out among the supporting cast . . ."
Tickets on sale now at www.theatermania.com or by calling 773-267-6293 for reservations!
Playwright: Nathaniel Hawthorne,
adapted by Rebecca Zellar
At: The GreyZelda Theatre Group
at Stage Left, 3408 N. Sheffield
Phone: 773-267-6293; $15
Runs through: Sept. 16
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
It is ironic that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s romanticist view of Puritan society in 17th-century Boston should become MORE coherent through Rebecca Zellar’s introduction of abstract elements in her adaptation of The Scarlet Letter for the GreyZelda Theatre Group. But if a picture ( as the saying goes ) is worth a thousand words, it should come as no surprise that a few moments of silhouetted corybanting, accompanied by Miranda Sex Garden’s orgasmic synth-rock, should convey subtext more vividly than the evocative inner monologues so irksome to generations of students required to read what may be the least salacious tale of adultery ever penned.
For those who succeeded in avoiding that homework assignment ( like I did ) , it is enough to know that Hester Prynne, her husband long missing at sea, has given birth to a child whose father she refuses to name. This decision being deemed inappropriate by her community, she is sentenced to wear a badge proclaiming her sin. But that brave woman flourishes, while the father of her illegitimate offspring falls ill under the stress of his secret. His decline is exacerbated by a mysterious physician—actually the incognito Mr. Prynne—bent on avenging the wrong done his beloved, if unfaithful, wife.
Hawthorne’s point is that only by being true to one’s own code of conduct does one achieve the dignity that confers happiness. Hester does this, as does her daughter, Pearl, and their protector, the ruthless Dr. Chillingworth. But only on the point of death does the Reverend Dimmesdale find peace, confessing his guilt by revealing the literal stigma engendered by his crime.
Zellar’s direction matches her production’s tone to the operatic proportions engendered by this gothic climax. Ron Kuzava renders Dr. Chillingworth as grotesquely menacing as his name, while Elizabeth Styles and Meredith Rae Lyons deliver heroic portrayals of gentlewomen Hester and Pearl Prynne. But the dramatic scope inspired by their performances inadvertently diminishes Toby Minor’s no-larger-than-life Rev. Dimmesdale, making us question, at times, if he is truly worth all the trouble taken by the others in precipitating his downfall.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
THE SCARLET LETTER Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic story of adultery and hypocrisy in a Puritan town is brought to the stage by the GreyZelda Theatre Group. Adapter-director Rebecca Zellar and the ensemble do a good job finding the drama in this rather static, meditative work. The acting is strong and many of the scenes are spare and pointed. But the nuances of Hawthorne's brilliant writing and spiritually complex message get lost amid the play's romance and melodrama. (Jack Helbig) Through 9/16: Thu-Sun 8 PM, Stage Left Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield, 773-267-6293, $15.
Casting, set undermine classic tale of adultery
BY BARBARA VITELLO Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Thursday, August 17, 2006
GreyZelda Theatre's adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne deserves a letter.
But it doesn't merit an "A."
Questionable casting, a distracting set and some awkward transitions that may confuse audiences unfamiliar with the classic novel mean this adequate production of "The Scarlet Letter" fails to earn a top grade.
And yet GreyZelda's version stands head and shoulders above Roland Joffé's spectacularly ill-conceived 1995 film starring the spectacularly mediocre Demi Moore as Hester Prynne.
Unlike Joffé and Moore, whose famously bastardized ending made a mockery of the tragedy, director Rebecca Zellar remains faithful to Hawthorne. Her scrupulous adaptation keeps intact the novel's dialogue. And while it has yet to match the expertise of say Lifeline Theatre, a company renowned for its masterful literary adaptations, newcomer GreyZelda shows promise.
The production also benefits from solid acting from its principals, especially Elizabeth Styles as an appropriately stoic Hester, who bears a child out of wedlock, is convicted of adultery and is forced to wear a scarlet "A" as punishment. Hester emerges as a woman of commanding will, who from shame and humiliation forges an identity independent of the one her puritanical society imposes. Styles carries herself with the dignity and calm reserve Hawthorne's proto-feminist heroine demands. It is a quietly noble performance, capped off by an emotional, well-acted reunion with Toby Minor's Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, the flawed clergyman who shares Hester's sin but not her punishment.
Minor is passionate as a guilty man consumed by sin and hypocrisy who draws from Hester the strength necessary to confess and thereby earn his salvation.
Ron Kuzava plays Roger Chillingworth, Hester's husband, who is presumed dead but returns under an assumed identity to exact revenge on his wife's lover.
A study in obsession and vengeance, Chillingworth is a man crippled by hate, whose deliberate revenge emerges as the play's greatest expression of evil.
Playing the role with a perpetual scowl, Kuzava makes an especially effective predator.
Also Kuzava and Minor resemble each other, a clever bit of casting that underscores the bond shared by these men, unwavering in their beliefs and ultimately corrupted by them. The production fares best when this trio is on stage.
Lisa Baer stands out among the supporting cast, most of whom deliver mundane performances, with several inexplicably adopting British accents when an indistinct, mid-Atlantic one would have better suited the 17th century Boston setting. Meredith Rae Lyons also stands out, but for the wrong reasons. Lyons is clearly too old to play Pearl, Hester's 7-year-old daughter. That bit of miscasting, plus several other missteps make this less than letter perfect.
The minimalist set consists of gauzy white panels suspended from the ceiling which serve as the backdrop for projections and shadow shows. As visuals, they work best when only a few actors occupy the stage. Otherwise they are distracting; likewise the ethereal background music from 1980's goth rock band Miranda Sex Garden. However, the stylized group pantomime - an expression of Puritan repression, guilt and passion that serves as prologue - works. But not so the recap of the Hester-Dimmesdale-Chillingworth triangle that begins the second act as little more than a redundant distraction.
"The Scarlet Letter"
Location: Stage Left Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield Ave., Chicago
Times: 8 p.m. Thursday to Sunday through Sept. 16
Running time: About two hours, including intermission
Parking: Street parking available
Box office: (773) 267-6293 or www.greyzelda.com
Rating: For teens and older
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
We're opening The Scarlet Letter up tomorrow and have made arrangements to sell tickets online through Theatermania.com if you'd like to purchase them early to assure that you'll have a seat. You can go to the following website to buy them:
The show's rockin' it. The actors look gorgeous in their costumes, Heath's lighting is starting to illuminate the billowing white curtains, Miranda Sex Garden sounds awesome in StageLeft's speakers, etc, etc, etc. I think you'll really enjoy yourselves.
We're having a Preview for a few audience members this evening and are considering tonight our final dress, so hopefully everything will come together in one fell swoop.
The Jeff Committee is coming tomorrow to adjudicate the show for possible Jeff recommendations which would be incredibly exciting. This is the first time GreyZelda's been eligible for consideration and we're hoping for the best.
We'll have quite a few reviewers there on Saturday evening . .. if you haven't ever witnessed many reviewers showing up to the same place at the same time, please try to do so. It's more entertaining the show half the time! =)
So, come see, come see!
Monday, July 31, 2006
GreyZelda's angle and experience with this issue is as follows: We are non-discriminatory when it comes to casting. We always cast the person that deserves a part, not based upon skin color, but based on their understanding, commitment, and intuitive taking to a character. Even for Desire Under the Elms, a play entirely about a family, if we had had another race besides the sea of Caucasions beat the pants of someone else for a role, we would have cast that person hands down. We wouldn't think twice about it. And we did, as a matter of fact.
. . . . You know what's funny? I've written several statements about casting someone other than a white person down and then promptly deleted them. Why? I think I'm scared of what you might think. Of your judgements of my phrasing. Of you thinking I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. And I think that's one of the main problems. One of the reasons why this doesn't get discussed more. As a white person, I don't want to offend.
I've got opinions on the race issue in Chicago but do you think I'm qualified to say them?
This is something that needs to be talked about.
Discuss freely . . .
Friday, July 28, 2006
The salve is applyed with gentle death onto the eyelids. A crone in a girl's frock creating the evening whimsies that rock and cut. Slicing letters through hearts. Weaving stories through thread. Shouting through the hump. The disease. Fiends arise.
Under the croak of summer. The cloak of secrets. The petty wants and fretting needs. A twisted hand reaches from the gravestone.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne
Adapted by the GreyZelda Theatre Group
Preview - August 9, 2006
Opens - August 10, 2006 and will run Wednesdays through Sundays at StageLeft Theatre
3408 N. Sheffield
Call 773-267-6293 for reservations.
Monday, July 24, 2006
This picture is of our friend, Corey Bicanich. More news to come at the end of this post.
A huge Thank you to everyone who attended our fundraiser last night. And a gigantic Hip Hip Hooray to Meredith Lyons, GreyZelda's new marketing director, for organizing everything. She did a wonderful job. She hit the streets and got restaurants and theatre companies to donate gift certificates and tickets. We also had donation of gum from Wrigley and Stacie Barra, original artwork donated by Sarah Stec, and beautiful watches donated by Meredith.
For those of you theatre companies that wonder about doing a fundraiser at Four Moon Tavern - here's how it works:
We were able to hold our event from 6pm to 8pm. If sales equaled $1000.00 in that timeframe, GreyZelda would received 25% of the sales. If we didn't total $1000.00, we would have gotten nothing. Puts the pressure on. And we reached the goal and then some thanks to everyone who came and ate and drank amongst good friends.
The total for the evening was $771.00. Which is great! That money could pay for a week at StageLeft! It helps with costume rental prices! Printing paper for the programs! Buying food and drink for our theatre Thursday event on August 31st! Incredible. Thank you so much for helping us out, everyone.
I'd have a fundraiser every day at Four Moon if I could. It was a great evening. Good conversations. Wonderful food. A pleasant temperature. And doing it all for the greatest theatre company I know, GreyZelda.
And, in other equally remarkable news, our friend in Morgantown, Corey Bicanich, is speaking. Some of you know that he suffered through a horrible car accident and has been slowly recovering for months. We received a call right before the fundraiser from his sister, Aimee, saying that he's starting to speak. Incredible! That's our man, Corey!
Saturday, July 15, 2006
The coartistic directors of GreyZelda - Lady Crow and the Olde Gentleman, who Crow calls Mulch - will not be doing anything today. Lady Crow has been consumed with directing the Scarlet Letter and sincerely looks forward to a day of nothing. Nothing normally constitutes tv, dart throwing, listening to music, talking, and making tasty food at home.
On Monday, we'll start putting the scenes together and seeing where we are with everything. The curtains have been hung, Mulch and Heath will be painting and weathering tomorrow, the costumes are starting to come together, we've received the promotional postcards and banner that we'll hang o'er StageLeft. We're receiving reservations already, which is grand.
We're excited to share this show with you.
What else? GreyZelda will be renting their rehearsal space to the Promethean Theatre in August and Greasy Joan in September. We'll be happy to host them and wish them successful rehearsals. We're currently renting to the improv folks producing Adventures in Comedy so go see it.
Lady Crow and Sir Mulch went to see GI's in Europe last night. Stacie Barra, Scarlet Letter's assistant director, was in it, as was her man Friday, Anthony. We later headed over to Chief O'Neill's where we shared stories and booze with our pals Ben Veatch, his lady, Anne, Stacie, Anthony, Missy, Eric and his wife whose name I can't remember at the moment and I apologize. Met some new folks. Met the guy on Wild Chicago. 'Twas fun. Good place to hang if you're over by Prop Theatre.
Again, have an exquisite Saturday.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Read It Again
Once a day with your multivitamin will do wonders.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
And, The Scarlet Letter was mentioned! So, even better.
You can check it out at:
While you're hanging around there, feel free to check out their Review Roundup and other shows mentioned.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Thursday, July 06, 2006
Rehearsal is going well. We've had to improvise a bit because actors have been sick or working or seeing good music or this and that. We're doing alright, though. Chris pointed out that I've scheduled with some give time to accomodate potential cancellations, but after this week, we won't be able to continue doing that, as we're moving into piecing the scenes together.
We had a great rehearsal last night working a couple of the major movement sequences at the beginning of each acts and trying to figure out how to drape the curtains. Heath and Chris will be purchasing and constructing the curtains this weekend, so we'll have them to rehearse with on Monday night. Cool. Should be very fun figuring out interesting layouts. Chris will need to be there with us on Monday and Tuesday to assist with manipulations of the fabric, so that will be fun showing him this and that. I've told him about the different scenes we've worked on and explored, but I prefer showing the work as words can't begin to describe some of the gorgeousness the actors have come up with. Collaboration and creation are two of my favorite things and we've got them working for us each night.
So, that's where we are right now. We should be getting the postcards soon to start spreading the word. Meredith has been great at brainstorming for our fundraiser on July 23rd at Four Moon Tavern. We'll get a percentage of their sales. It's a quick and painless fundraiser, but a little bit goes a long way.
Rock and roll. Hope you're all doing well.
Friday, June 30, 2006
It's been a while since I updated the GreyZelda blog and for that I sincerely apologize. I've written over at myspace, which is a psychotic mistress. You can see some of my goings on at www.myspace.com/mulchcrow .
The Scarlet Letter
Rehearsal has been going extremely well. Sometimes I feel nervous when it's moving along like this. We've gotten about half of it blocked and will carry the tourch on to the final staged scene in the next week or so. Ben of Miranda Sex Garden has given us permission to use some of their music in the show, which is awesome. I've been waiting to hear what Robert may have come up with, but, unfortunately, he's moving in the next couple of days, so . . . Miranda Sex Garden has been providing an aural backdrop of gothic splendour.
Our actors have been phenomenal. They only need a little bit of direction and just start running with it. This production is very movement oriented and with simply reading aloud out of Hawthorne's text, extracting abstract themes and images, and combining a safe, ensemble atmosphere where all is permitted to be tried at least once, we've really come up with gorgeous compositions which will only get bigger and better as rehearsal moves forward.
Our production team has been a huge treat this time around, as well. Stacie Barra and Melissa Kuhlmann have been working very closely with me during rehearsals and we've had awesome collaborations of the mind. We all seem to be speaking the same language. This has been a female-led undertaking all the way around and it's just been a joy every night. I may be tired when I get home from work, but once we start rehearsal, the energy comes right back.
Thank you, everyone, for making this process a lovely one.
Don has a blog at www.donhall.blogspot.com . He rants, discources, discusses, and tells it as he deems fit on it almost daily. He recently resigned as Executive Director of WNEP and we wish him the best of luck. We're not "friends", per se, for we've only talked once or twice in the last couple of years, but I admire what he stands for, what he's done with his theatre company, and how he goes about acheiving his goals while doing what he wants to do. I hope I never resign from GreyZelda, being a founding member. 'Twould make me heartsick. But, if it's in GreyZelda's best interests that I ever do such a thing, well . . . decisions have to be made. A person's heart has to be in it, though. That's the only thing that keeps most of us trucking in this town and in this art form. If that starts to fade, then it's hard going. It's fucking hard, yeah. But, that pony is always there to ride. And it's good to know that there are helping hands if you fall.
I hope you all have a wonderful Holiday weekend. Go see fireworks. Eat corn on the cob. Drink pink lemonade.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
The Scarlet Letter had its first rehearsal last night and, although we were missing three out of four ensemble members, the reading was much fun over all, aside from the monkeys and the Black Man. The former is a Kuzava gem. The latter is all Hawthorne.
I'm very tired today, my friends. The energy that buoys me is purely from that creative spirit that takes a hold so well. I don't know what it is, but I feel like I could delve into the soma pool for a couple of weeks and sleeeeep, sleeeeeeep with the poppies. I've a touch of the sleeping sickness. And some tummy trouble. I called off work yesterday to tend to it. It's still hanging out today along with this intense weariness I speak of.
Back to flowers: This lovely rose will be featured on the Scarlet posters, so keep your eyes open for technicolor thorniness coming to you soon, thanks to the ever fantastic Sarah Stec. Whenever she presents ideas to us, she gives us a few choices to pick from. And each choice has its distinct merit. She and the Mulchman both liked the same design, but I can't turn my eyes away from this Rose. I want to pick it and put it in my hair.
Doing a show right after the closing of our last one will be an intense challenge. We have helpers, oh yes, and they're wonderful, but a lot of the work is done by me and that Mulchman I mention now and again. So, jumping right up on that saddle again and riding away into the GreyZelda sunset will require much focus. Everything seems pretty organized. We're calling more meetings this time around and getting everyone on the same road. This one's going to be more technical than some of our other offerings, so we're having a design meeting Thursday night to discuss music, costumes, set, shadows, cloth, etc. We're also having a fundraising meeting on Sunday afternoon to get our summer fundraising plan going. So . . . busy, busy, busy. Father's Day is this Sunday. We mustn't forget.
And speaking of days not to forget: Happy Birthday, Darlene!!!! (Darlene is Chris's mommos. He sent flowers to her today and she'll be receiving her present soon.)
That's about it. I hope you all are well. If you want to offer your assistance to GreyZelda in anyway, shape, or form, please let us know. Feel free to ask what you can do to help if you're drawing a blank. We have lots of things. And we love our feeling of ensemble behind and in front of the curtain and are always looking for those people who just love doing it and being a part of it.
Beak, beak, beak,
Saturday, June 03, 2006
Thanks for your support, everyone!
Most Recent Reviews:
May 22, 2006
Lois Foster Hillsdale, MI
This is a great story that is well presented. You will have an enjoyable evening. You will also hear the message and it will give you something to think about in the following days. Go see the show!
May 22, 2006
This is an excellent production that really strips away all excesses, leaving a very strong cast of characters and raw, unfiltered emotions. With the very intimate space used by the production, you can't help but be a part of everything that is going on.
May 21, 2006
Dora Chicago, IL
Definately a fine way to end your evening with a captivating cast sharing O'Neill's dramatic tale. I've followed Gray Zelda theater company's productions for several years, follwing their hits and misses. I feel that, without a doubt, Desire Under the Elms is their best work to date. The actor who played the father's character is intimidating and real- similar to a distant relative whom you have the misfortune of bumping into at annual family gatherings. Watching his family fall apart, unaware of his own part of the crumbling, the actor of Ephrim was memorable and powerful. As an audience member, being in the dark with this character is at times frightening and exhilirating. By all means, see this theater company's version of Desire Under the Elms. I feel that you'll get chills (like I did) as the play ends.
May 21, 2006
Sarah Chicago, IL
Greyzelda does it again! Desire Under the Elms is a collaboration of genuine talent—from the minimalist stage that truly captures the environment to the amazing actors that carry you through each emotional chapter. Come see what these creative minds assemble on limited budget with limitless talent and vision!
May 21, 2006
Tiffany Chicago, IL
A wonderfully rooted ensemble, coupled with clever staging and imaginative use of a small space. It's Chicago storefront at it's best.
May 14, 2006
John Marrick, IL
Waste of three hours. Melodramatic, overplayed. I should have left after the first intermission. Not reccomended.
Friday, June 02, 2006
We've loved producing this show. There have been some elements that have made it trying. More on that later. I keep saying that, but, there's a time and a place. If you must know all now, you can shoot us an email and we'll talk about this and that.
One thing I know is this: The Chicago Reader brought in our audiences. We polled our folks as they purchased their tickets, asking where they heard about the show. 99.9% have heard about it from the Reader. So. To those who sometimes bitch about the Reader, just know . . . that's where you're getting your audiences from, if our audiences are an example of the Chicago people's choices of publications and news of what theatre to see.
I love the Reader. Good reviews, bad reviews, I'm just happy that they've been the one consistent paper that has reviewed every single one of our shows from the beginning. We only had one reviewer for One Flea Spare. Mary Shen Barnidge. And it was such a pleasure having her there during our first show. It was great speaking Kafka with Jack Helbig after Metamorphosis. Jenn Vanasco was sick the first time she saw Thimbleberry and had to leave at the intermission. I quipped, "It's that bad, huh?", but she was as sick as dear MK. She came back and gave us a lukewarm review but nice things to say nonetheless. Zac Thompson didn't speak to us at all after Insanity. He didn't like the show, to say the least. From the jist of the review, it appeared that he had a problem with feminism, thus having a problem with the show altogether. And, now, we've come full circle with Mary returning for Desire. Very cool.
What's great about the Reader is their new system with the shows, letting readers know, just through a quick glance, what shows are Critic's Choice, Recommended, Opening, Closing, etc. They also keep a synopsis of the review throughout your show's run, which is nonstop press and updates for people. I really appreciate that. I mean, think about it - unless it's online, people who are picking up the Tribune and the Suntimes only have that issue for a day and then chuck it. That's it. Good review or bad. Please inform me if I'm wrong. Timeout is awesome and a classy magazine, but you have to pay for it. The Reader's free and is hefty enough to last for a week.
I love the Reader.
Have you ever checked out www.theatreinchicago.com? That's pretty cool, too, with their review roundups. It's very comprehensive and easy to navigate through, giving you the quick scoop on what show's to see or not see.
You know who needs to see a GreyZelda show? Chris Jones and Hedy Weiss. They seem tired of the H groups. They need to see fresh blood and what they've been unhappy with in their recent reviews of select current shows is something GreyZelda can fix. Or try to. Opinion is opinion, whether you're happy with a review or not. Speaking of - I don't think I ever included Kerry Reid's review here. I'm going to go over it with my Crow fork. I'm glad she came representing the Tribune, though, because to add fuel to my Reader fire - she also writes and works for the Reader.
Here it is:
Eugene O'Neill's 1924 New England tragedy "Desire Under the Elms," based on the Hippolytus and Phaedra (people keep throwing that around. We never released that with the press release. It's a time honored tale, yes, but it's our understanding that O'Neill wrote it because he dreamed it in its entirety one night. Maybe he was inspired by Phaedra tales. I don't know. I'm not as researched as some, I admit, and Phaedra's a hell of a heroine, but . . . it seems to quickly categorize the story into a Greek rip-off. Some people just want to sound very informed. . . ) story of a lustful woman and the stepson she ensnares, is tough going (Not really. Thanks for your concern, Kerry, but our actors really don't have a problem with that. We liked the womby feel of the whole thing. And I think our actors have been awesome with their use of the space. And the C-man has been awesome with his manipulation of the blocking. So, we don't find it tough. It's meaty, but not tough. Heh heh. ) in a small room. The titular (mmm, titular) elms in GreyZelda Theatre Group's production, directed by Chris Riter, are reduced to shadowy projections (it would have really been tough going if we had two draping elms - oh my gosh!!! Then there would have been no room, no sirree, bob jr. GreyZelda never likes to be blatantly obvious anyway. And when you're in a house, you don't see the elms directly. You see shadows in the room, so . . . that's what we simulated. She's a little pickyand not accounting for the fact of innovation-on-a-dime.) The over-the-top and across-the-board accents fall under the generic heading of Rural Bumpkin 101 (Doesn't this seem, once again, like she's attacking West Virginia? She can do no better than that sentence? We kind of wonder if people have read O'Neill's script and know that he wrote the dialect directly in there - h'aint is in there, whether or not you think it's a word or not . . . I admit that some of the accents aren't exactly on the nose, but the choice was made to not have that be the biggest concern. The C-Man wanted to tell the story and that technicality wasn't as important as some other things. Not that it's not important. Just a choice, and I think that the actors really pull the show off and do an admirable job with the dialect and what O'Neill wrote in the first place.) --while the central tragic romance, between Eben and his young stepmother Abbie, doesn't ignite with the all-consuming passion it requires. (Others have disagreed on that point as well. We disagree. Did you know Tom and Melissa are together? We think they achieved greater intimacy and hot and heavy passion than most actors can get to. Whatevah.) But at intermittent points, the actors find the wounded dignity that girds O'Neill's potboiler of a story, thanks mostly to Melissa Kuhlmann's quietly mesmerizing Abbie and to Aris Tompulis' ability to imbue Ephraim--her flinty old coot of a husband--with the wounded solitary pride that is the undoing of his troubled clan. (She liked Aris, which is awesome! We told you he rocks!!!! So, he got a shout out in the Tribune. Kick ass.)
So, you see, it's one of those lukewarm ones again. So it goes. I do think that for small theatre, the Reader is the one that prevails with helping to get folks in the seats. It didn't seem to matter one way or another that the Tribune came to the show. It was cool to finally get acknowledged by them and I hope our relationship can continue, but the Reader won this particular round.
We'll see what happens with Scarlet Letter.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
The male ensemble member will be changing characters 3-4 times (and all the characters are very juicy - it is, after all, Hawthorne's text) and will constantly be moving with his fellow ensemble members to represent rose bushes, water, etc. He'll be creating shadows behind one of the four white curtains hanging.
It should be really exciting.
And he'll be acting with this assembled confirmed cast of actors: Ron Kuzava, Toby Minor, Elizabeth Styles, Meredith Lyons, Lisa Baer, and Derek Jarvis. - Awesome actors, yo!
And we'll be performing at StageLeft. Music composed by Robert Filippo. Set design by Kim Katona and Heath Hays. Graphics: Sarah Stec. Assistant Directed by Stace Barra. Movement assistance by Melissa Kuhlmann. General support for sanity by Chris Riter. Directed by me, BZ!
So . . . spread the word, my friends, that we're on the hunt for a man. Not just any man. A movement oriented, ensemble joining man who loves experimentation and exploration - (I should put an ad out in the Reader! Heh heh)
And he should be comfortable with an english accent and classical text.
Rehearsals will begin on June 5th. I'd like to not have to hold a general audition in such a short time but I'd like to read the person first, if I don't know him.
Thank you so much for your help!!!!!!! This should be an incredible process and experience.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
O'Neill borrowed the Oedipal legend from the Ancient Greeks, while keeping his play firmly rooted in early 20th Century rural Americana. Crotchety old patriarch Ephraim Cabot has just taken his third wife, a young woman named Abbie, who is anxious to take over the family farm and make a new home and life for herself. She will have quite a fight on her hands, though, with Ephraim's youngest son, Eben, who believes the property belonged to his late mother and that he is its rightful beneficiary.
To stake his claim, Eben pays off his elder half brothers Peter and Simeon, who plan to strike it rich in the California Gold Rush. And while Abbie and Eben grapple over ownership rights to the family homestead, the inevitable sparks begin to fly and the tragic wheels of lust and fate begin to turn. And what of old Ephraim? Will he just roll over for the young 'uns without a good fight? Don't bet on it.
While the play is ostensibly set in O'Neill's New England, Director Chris Riter's staging seems rooted in West Virginia. Tom Gordon's earnest and folksy manner is credible . . . But it is Kuhlmann who walks away with the acting honors in an earthy, ripe and sensuous performance that is fully committed and riveting. There are moments in this small black box staging that are stirring and powerful . . .Kuhlmann's work is unforgettable.
"Desire Under the Elms" continues through June 3, 2006 at Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway in Chicago. The play runs 2 hours 10 minutes with intermission. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 and may be reserved by calling (773) 267-6293 or visit www.greyzelda.com.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS
A domineering father, his calculating young bride, a resentful son, and a valuable estate create a situation ripe for uncontrolled greed and passion in Eugene O'Neill's 1924 shocker. Today the story risks coming off as hackneyed to audiences inured to steamy domestic intrigues. But under Chris Riter's perceptive direction, the GreyZelda Theatre Group uses its intimate storefront space to advantage, establishing the intensity of the characters' relationships. In a production running a tidy two hours with not a second wasted, Tom Gordon and Melissa J. Kuhlmann are suitably eros obsessed as the young lovers. But what rivets our attention is Aris Tompulis's bearish performance as the uncompromising patriarch. --Mary Shen Barnidge
And you know what people? After you see our show, go see Invasion of the Minnesota Normals. You might want to see a Graney wonder, a House rapteazler, but . . . there are other games in town, too.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Desire Under the Elms
By Eugene O’Neill. Dir. Chris Riter. With Tom Gordon, Melissa Kuhlmann, Aris Tompoulis. GreyZelda Theatre Group at Oracle Theatre.
NIGHTMARE ON ELMS STREET Kuhlmann and Gordon get to the dark heart of O’Neill.
Who knew that O’Neill’s rarely produced tragedy—written in 1924, set in 1850, and drawing on classics like Phèdre and Hippolytus (with a healthy dose of Freud’s version of Oedipus Rex)—could feel so contemporary? GreyZelda’s minimalist storefront treatment draws a direct line from O’Neill to more modern works like Shepard’s Buried Child and Romulus Linney’s dark Appalachian plays. O’Neill’s influence on said latter playwrights is clear in Riter’s bare-bones and basement-budget staging of the love affair between Eben (Gordon) and Abbie (Kuhlmann), doomed not least because Abbie’s the new wife of Eben’s hard-hearted religious tyrant father, Ephraim (Tompoulis), who’s built walls between himself and his son as impermeable as the stone walls surrounding his farm.
The leads in this romantic tragedy are both terrific, especially Kuhlmann, who can be simultaneously coldly determined and confused with passion. She maintains this multiplicity of emotion until Abbie’s climactic breakdown, when she goes blank and weary, as though she’s run out of feelings. The character of Ephraim feels more kinship with his stony land, his livestock, and his idea of God than with his human family, but Riter allows Tompoulis too much free rein; he makes Ephraim a cartoonish, sneering ape, and sinks so deep into O’Neill’s cotton-mouthed dialect as to be unintelligible. Still, Riter’s physical, fast-paced staging makes things fresh, and scenic designer Heath Hays gets extra credit for evoking the vastly oppressive New England farmland without the benefit of stones, walls or indeed those onerous elms.—Kris Vire
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Hi, everybody - We're coming upon the second week of Desire Under the Elms and we can't wait to see you in the audience. Our first week went very well - our audiences were decent and our actors and crew were dead on with their performances. I've said it before and I'll say it again - it's a beautiful show. O'Neill's story, the ensemble's acting, Heath's lighting and set, Robert's music . . . all of these aspects have combined to make something compelling and fascinating. To quote our friend, Lisa, it's "sickening . . . but in a good way. It'll stay with you for a couple of days." So, if that's the mark of a great show . . . come see Desire! (The GreyZelda crew has always been known for their morbidity. If we've been sickened, by god, our job has been done.) Or if "sickening" ain't your thang, gods forbid, there's a lot of luvvin', and kissin' and likker drinkin'. Fightin', funnin', and lolligaggin'. We feel it rocks, basically.
Word of mouth is key for any theatre company's success, so if you've seen the show and liked what you saw, tell everyone! If you've seen one of our shows in the past and were pleased you did, tell everyone! There are places online to do so as well - metromix, myspace, centerstage, etc. Let them know that you're GreyZelda fans! That's how the House does it . . . they've got tons of word of mouth power. . . and G comes before H, yo! I know that our GreyZelda Group can get the word out!!!!! Forward and paste this email anywhere you deem fit!!!! Talk about GreyZelda at work! Talk about the Group on the train! On your cell phone while you're on the train!!!! To your parents! To your grandparents! To anyone who watches crows as they fly by!
So, please call 773-267-6293 to make your reservations. Seating is very limited, so reservations will confirm that you'll get a seat.See you soon!
Rebecca and Chris
Friday, May 12, 2006
So, yes, it's Friday of Desire's opening week. It's going really well. Last night we had a small but very appreciative audience. Two of the audience members had seen the show posted on www.eoneill.com and are big fans of O'Neill. You might recall the distinction I wrote about yesterday about there being two types of people in the world? Well, maybe it's true. We do shows for those people. People who are familiar with the text. Who are literary. Who appreciate amazing works of literature. I think GreyZelda is really falling into our own by the fact that the author comes first with us. When we adapt literature to the stage, we stay true to the author's vision and intent through the words. And we do the same with playwright's. Like we always say, "If the writing's good, acting's good, and staging's good, you should be able to perform a play anywhere." And I think we prove that again with Desire. The space might be a storefront, but I truly don't feel that that detracts from the power of the show. It makes it more powerful.
On the subject of "new versus old" . . . we had a conversation with this girl a couple of weeks ago about casting for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf". She had never seen the original movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, but felt qualified to say that she thinks Kathleen Turner and Bill Owens are probably better. She also was the type that thinks movie remakes of originals are ok. I disagree on all those fronts. I think that Taylor and Burton were cast perfectly and made Albee's script live like nobody's business. I agree that Turner and Owens are excellent actors, but better than the latter? Absolutely not. And movie remakes are for hacks.
But I am still chuckling about Tom's statement that Desire Under the Elms is one of O'Neill's little known works. Lord. I think Desire is in most college theatre textbooks and is often mentioned first when speaking of O'Neill. Funny, funny, funny to me.
I'll let you in on a secret. We don't like shows that are too frightfully modern and all the rage. For example, Sarah Kane. I appreciate certain elements but if a show opens with a guy cumming into a sock, honestly ... not interested. It's momentary. Flavor of the month stuff. Shock sock theatre. Give me the classics anytime. I want to see the show that withstands the test of time. We have living playwrights that are doing that: Kushner, Wallace, Churchill, etc. We even have groups here in Chicago creating original shows that could withstand 100 years. I think WNEP is a good example. I was extremely impressed with their Soiree Dada. They took an old element and brought it around once more to the masses. I think some loved it, some hated it. But, I love that they took the risk with something that others (Tom) would say should be shut back into the vaults. I think their new show would be great to see, but we're doing this one. We'll see if we can fit it in.
Anyway . . . have an excellent weekend. If you're looking for something to inspire you and make you feel smarter, please come see Desire Under the Elms. You can't go wrong with the classics.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
1.Running time is 2 hrs, 45 min with 2 intermissions - (It actually ran 2 hours and 5 minutes last night with both intermissions included. Tom arrived around 7:15, so he must have included his lobby time. The fact that we did O'Neill in such a short amount of time is pretty GD good. So, being that the time check is completely off, please read the rest with that grain of salt.)
Through June 3, 2006
O’Neill work suffers from dramatic overload
Classics like Eugene O’Neill plays are dangerous grounds for storefront theatres. (GreyZelda likes Danger!) Desire Under Elms, O’Neill’s dream inspired 1924 play is seldom produced and plays out as much too dramatic, stilted and over written. (I guess "Bacon's bacon" and "Ayah" is too overwritten?) This isn’t one of O’Neill’s landmark plays. (It isn't????????? Hahahahahahahahahhahaha.)
Gray (Grey) zelda’s production has several problems. First the decision to make the rural farm accents sound like West Virginian hillbilly (Why must people regard West Virginians as hillbillies, I ask you? What isn't remembered is that West Virginia is closer to New England than Chicago is. AND, people have said that the cadence in Appalachian speach is closer to what Shakespeare originally wrote for than most other dialects. And Tom never would have said this if he didn't know that the director prides himself on being from West Virginia. That really has nothing to do with anything. It's like a gay reviewer ripping on the feminism in Mary Girard. Not a needed comment.) instead of the New England accent O’Neill used in the script didn’t work for me. (The actors made a point to follow O'Neill's script exactly as written. There are a couple of moments where things might accidentally get southern because the characters are rural, but . .. they're pretty eastern, in our opinions.) The uneven accents diminished the power of O’Neill’s words. Next, the decision to have Aris Tompoulis play the father as an overwhelming, intimidating wound-too-tight emotionally explosive character gave an almost farcical tone to the work. Tompoulis so over plays Ephraim that he telegraphs his wickedness unrealistically. (That is just crazy. Aris is one of the best actors we've ever had the good fortune to work with. He plays Ephraim as O'Neill intended and fucking rocks!!!!!!!!! We are so lucky to work with this man and feel that everybody should come see the show simply because of him. He's amazing. Everyone else that has seen the show has been blown away by him.) One wonders what Abbie (Melissa Kuhlmann) saw in him besides his farm to get her to marry him? (Abbie does marry him for the farm, number one. Number two . . . ARIS ROCKS!!!!!!!!)
The slow pace (Again - 2 hours and 5 minutes? Not bad.) and labored (They're farmers. They labor.) performances made this relic tedious. I have problems with O’Neill’s script that stretches our suspension of disbelief. I liked Tom Gordon’s take on Eben, the son who struggles with lust and conviction as he attempts to capture the farm away from his hated father. The location, both as to geographic area and era (1850’s ?) was unclear giving a strangeness to the accents. (We wanted it to be anytime, but kept it in New England. It's stated in the program.) The melodramatic style worked against the production. (Doesn't Tom Williams like musicals? He also liked Mary Girard which was WAY more melodramatic than our version of Desire Under the Elms. Plus . . . here's the basic story line: Father brings hot stepmother home. She pretends to be the sons' new mother even though they're her age. She gets into the youngest son right under the old skunk's nose. Things get hot and heavy. She kills to get her way. There's a lot of melodrama.) I guess the real Eugene O’Neill fans will find this work engaging, I didn’t. (We also make a point to cater to literary types. If O'Neill fans like the show, we've done our jobs. I didn't know that there were two types of fans but now I do - those who like O'Neill and those who don't. It's kind of like the Rolling Stones/Beatles controversy. Cool!) It seemed over acted and stiff. (OK, OK, everyone's entitled to their opinions.)
Desire Under the Elms needs to be put back into the archives with other outdated works. (I strongly disagree. Great works should live. And GreyZelda will help them do so. We proudly live in the outdated. We will always make great literature live. Thank you, Eugene O'Neill!!!!!)
Not Recommended (GreyZelda recommends it!!!! As does great literature! If you want to sit at home and watch American Idol, please do so, but if you'd like to give your brain a good, pleasurable workout . . . come see this show!)
Tom Williams ( Tom's a great guy and we love him coming to our show, but I think this particular review is really off. I often don't argue with the reviews and just let them be, but . . . If you've seen the show and would like to discuss your opinions further with this critic - here's his email address:
Tom99@chicagocritic.com for comments
Our opening night went by without a hitch and we're proud of our actors for being phenomenal.
We encourage you to make reservations earlier in the run than later in the run because the seating is quite limited.
It's a good show! Great script! Great acting! Great directing! It's Eugene O'Neill, motherfuckers. Eugene O'Neill done in 2 hours and 15 minutes. The reviewers in the house last night commented us on that fact. O'Neill shows have a tendency to go on and on . . . not so with our version due to the staging.
So, come one. Come All!!!! Give me a call at 773-267-6293 with your reservations!
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
We're close to selling out for tomorrow. It's easy to do with limited seating, but, hey, I'd rather have a full house every night then empty seats. It's a hell of a show. We have a hell of a crew. And Mulch is a hell of a director. And a sexy one , too.
So, make your reservations, friends, family, and neighbors. You won't be disappointed. It's one of those special little packages that you'll remember for a long time, I hope.
And I dance drunk. Say no more. Say no more.
And I want to send a shout out to Brandon and Cheryle. They taught me many things today and I thank them for being friends that can go up, around, and back again with me. I can't wait to see them at the show.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Press photos for Desire. Melissa and Tom as Abbie and Eben.
We open May 10th. Coming up fast! Tonight's our last rehearsal at GreyZelda studios before moving into Oracle's space on Sunday morning.
Last night's rehearsal was amazing. The actors got to where they needed to be emotionally and were completely connected to each other. It turned into something absolutely fascinating and compelling. It's such a show that you might start laughing and then crying two seconds later. O'Neill was a powerhouse and we're lucky to be able to play with the show.
We can't wait to see you there. Call 773-267-6293 for reservations.
Monday, May 01, 2006
Rebekah got her first Jeff nomination for Best Actress. Her role as Sabina in Skin of our Teeth garnered her a nod and she definitely deserves it. She's a fireball of a person and an actor. If you know Mrs. Rebekah, please give her a hearty congratulations and know that she'll probably thank Natasha in her acceptance speech!!! For those of you who don't know Rebekah, you should. And for those of you needing more of an explanation . . .
Rebekah contacted us long ago and far away when we put an audition announcement out for Thimbleberry Gallows. She's a West Virginia girl, you see, and loved knowing that we were from West Virginia. We got to talking. I threw Denise Giardina out there for conversation's sake. She got what I was talking about. Seemed super keen. I wanted her to audition. Alas, she was in a wedding during the performance dates. (This girl has a lot of weddings to attend, let me tell you.)
So, we told her we'd keep in touch and vice versa. Fast forward to a month later. We were in need for a scenic designer. We heard from Mrs. Ward-Hays again and she nominated her husband, Heath, saying that he was an amazingly talented scenic designer and we would be fools not to use him. Well, she didn't say that exactly, but you get my drift. We called Heath up, met him for drinks, he pulled out his laptop and showed us some topnotch designs, and he was in. He created our tree landscape and Thimbleberry and the legend of Fanny Hooe thanks him.
We've become great friends with this power duo and I wish the best in everything for them. Great Happiness. Great Love. Great Success.
We're so excited for you, Rebekah!!!!! A little validation and acknowledgement for jobs well done go a million miles sometimes and this is the top honor here in Chicago. The sky's the limit!!!
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
As some of you know, we're going to start rehearsals and experiments for the Scarlet Letter soon, which we're adapting straight from Nathaniel Hawthorne's tale. Missy Styles is going to be Hester Prynne and Meredith Lyons is going to be Pearl, Hester's daughter. All the other parts are completely up in the air, so that means we're looking for a Reverend Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth, plus 4 other actors who can play multiple roles like Mistress Hibbons, the various clergymen, the governor, townspeople, etc. We're looking for people with movement background and creators who love the process of discovery and exploration. A lot of stage time to be had by all. And, if you've auditioned for us before, we'd love to have you back!
Like Metamorphosis, this production is going to be VERY movement oriented, experimental, and representational with the set. Kim Katona is helping me come up with shadow effects that will make things very mysterious and haunting. There will be much fabric to play with and interweave from here to there and everywhere. Stacie Barra is helping me as assistant director and she's also already come up with super cool costume designs.
The process should be very enjoyable and all the actors will really help with the creative process. We love ensemble work, as a lot of you are aware. So . . . please let me know if you'd be interested and feel free to forward this to other actors that you think would like to be involved in our process. There will be some pay and we're always very generous at making everyone know how much we appreciate their hard work. We'll hold auditions if we don't get the response we're looking for this way. Either way, I'll need to have folks read for the part and also see how wonderfully they move.
The show will run for six weeks starting in August at StageLeft. I'm hoping to start rehearsals mid-May at our space on Ravenswood.
I look forward to hearing from you and am incredibly excited about this beautiful project.
RebeccaRebecca Zellar and Chris Riter
The GreyZelda Theatre Group
Friday, April 21, 2006
"There is only one thing to see in the twilight realm of Desire.
It is called the threshold. The fortress of Desire.
Desire has always lived on the edge.
The threshold is larger than you can easily imagine. It is a statue of Desire, him-, her- or it-self.
(Desire has never been satisfied with just one sex. Or just one of anything - excepting only perhaps the threshold itself.)
The threshold is a portrait of Desire, complete in all details, built from the fancy of Desire out of blood, and flesh, and bone, and skin.
And like every true citadel since time began, the threshold is inhabited.
There is only one occupant, at this time.
Desire of the Endless.
The threshold is far too large for just one person.
It contains two eardrums larger than a dozen marble ballrooms.
And empty, echoing veins, like tunnels. You will walk them until you grow old and die without once retracing your steps.
Given Desire's temperament, however, there was only one place in the cathedral of its body to make its home.
Desire lives in the heart."
- Neil Gaiman
Monday, April 10, 2006
Hello, everybody -
I just wanted to write and let everybody know what's been happening in the land of the GreyZelda Theatre Group.
Front and Center . . . We'll be opening Desire Under the Elms by Eugene O'Neill a month from today - May 10 and it'll be the kick off of our third season in Chicago. The show will be at the Oracle Theatre on N. Broadway. Chris is directing and it should be a beautifully swell show. If I could play you the music, show you the set design, preview the acting, and pass along O'Neill's text, I would, but it'll be better for you to see for yourself.
I've been adapting the Scarlet Letter with the help of Stacie Barra. We're putting that up in August at StageLeft.
If you haven't seen it already, we've created a myspace account, which you can see at www.myspace.com/mulchcrow. Please feel free to add us as friends. We're friendly.
I also set up a cafepress account for us, where you can purchase GreyZelda items along the likes of . . . coffee mugs, bags, journals, stickers, underwear (yes, GreyZelda underwear. I can't wait to get mine.), tshirts, and hats. It's pretty cool. Sarah Stec did amazing work at coming up with a Branding campaign for us and her logos, designs, etc will be on each of the GreyZelda items. www.cafepress.com/greyzelda
And, speaking of Sarah . . . she helped us with business cards and bookmarks, so keep your eyes open all around town. She also helped us with a new website design, so check that out, too. And feel free to send me quotes to put in the Crow's beak day to day. www.greyzelda.com
That's about it on the GZ front. I hope you're all doing well and enjoying this gorgeous day!
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Maybe it's somebody's alarm clock set to go off like a phone. Do they make those? How annoying if they do. And it's like I'm Elaine in Seinfeld if that's the case for that happened to her and drove her slightly batty. It wasn't hard to drive Elaine batty, but . . . it was one of those episodes.
Someday the phone will be answered. Hopefully, it'll turn into a steady din. If I go batty, well . . . what's new, pussycat?