Friday, April 06, 2007

"The Chicago Project" - April 2007

"Seven new short plays written by young people from Chicago's Steppenwolf Cross-Town Ensemble. Performed by the Citizens' Young Co." Unfortunately those two sentences from the programme are at the heart of the problems with this production. Much of the joy in previous Young Co productions such as "Geeks Greeks & Party Myths" or Citizens Community Company productions like "My Bloody Valentine" comes from the fact that they are devised or specially written pieces very much with the Citizens audience in mind. Understandably the component parts of "The Chicago Project" lack that targeting and unfortunately something appears to have been lost mid-Atlantic. Probably best to run through each of the segments in turn...

"This Charming Man" by Erin Nederbo was an effective two hander about saying goodbye, and featured strong performances by Omar Raza and Amanda McColl. It was always clear where this was heading but the incremental moves towards the conclusion worked well.

I'm afraid "A Lesson Learned" by Katie McCoy just didn't work for me, despite an excellent central performance by Fiona McCann and some nice touches of direction. Its tale of recovering a disturbing memory didn't actually have much to say and the conclusion left me a little perplexed to be honest.

"Hang Up" by Hope Rehak was by far my favourite piece of the evening. A wonderfully put together part-real, part-imagined conversation between two "friends" who have drifted apart much to the regret of one of them. Touching performances by both Andrea Punty and Gemma McGinlay added to very natural sounding dialogue. I was left wanting just that little bit more from the piece - I wanted to hear that final phone call. Great stuff - with the "flash photography" direction a particularly nice touch.

"It's all in the Box" by "Benton Reynolds" Whoosh!!! Intended as light relief this one went way over my head once we got past the initial concept (which I did quite like).

Siblings returning to their home after the death of their mother was the focus of "If We Were Green" by Dan Dvorkin. A very "nice" performance by Alex Barr held this one together but I don't think the writing made the most of what could have been a powerful idea.

"This Just In!" by Majdi Badri was an urban myth style tale which didn't really have the twist or humour to make the piece work. It also wasn't really helped by using a female cast member as one of the two competing boyfriends.

"Empty House" by Geneva Redmond was a little like watching "Aalst" all over again, particularly with a stand-out performance by Eve Nicol but Fouad Samimy and Martin Haddow also brought depth to their roles. What was here was well enough written and the overlaid dialogue worked well, but there was just too much left unsaid for my taste.

Overall it wasn't in any way an unenjoyable evening, but it's difficult not to consider it a disappointment when only one of the seven pieces really captured my enthusiasm. The problems weren't with the acting but I think more with the whole concept of performing plays written from a distance and I suspect that if the cast had maybe been given a bit more room to adapt the pieces/dialogue for a local audience then more would have hit the mark. Although I should add that the audience reaction was generally very positive, so it may have just been me who had a problem tonight.

3 Heckles

Anonymous said...

Oh, my god. Hello, I'm Hope Rehak, and I'm a seventeen-year-old Chicago playwright.

Thank you! We had no idea our plays were being produced overseas, and then Erin Nederbo stumbled upon this review while Googling her name on the internet.

It's very strange that no one from Steppenwolf nor the Scottish "Chicago Project" contacted any of us seven writers to let us know it was being produced a second time and by a Scottish company, but obviously you don't have anything to do with that and I'm not complaining.

Thank you for the review! I can't say it enough! Sorry about leaving out the final phone call. It's thrilling to read your comments.

I have so many questions, but the most important thing is, I'm glad you liked my work.

Statler said...

Hi Hope,

Glad you found our little review site. I'm surprised you weren't aware what was being done, but if you haven't already come across it have a look at the Citz Young Co. MySpace at for more info.

As you know I was impressed with your piece in particular - a very clever structure and the cast did you proud. Best of luck with your writing! And don't worry about my complaint regarding the final phone call - I'm a sucker for clear cut endings but I appreciate that for others leaving things unsettled works best.

Waldorf said...

I've been neglecting adding my 2p/2c recently as time's been a short commodity.

However I wanted to let Erin know that "Hang Up" may have been Statler's favourite, but "This Charming Man" was mine.

As Statler said, you knew where it was going but I thought the sense of loss and the wider effects on friends and family was well written and delivered well by the performers on the night.

Just like a collection of short stories; playlets will always have hits and misses for people. What those hits and misses are, will vary widely.

For example "This Just In!" was one I think we both felt didn't really work for us. However I heard 2 separate people mention it positively on the way out.

The one consequence of this is that you need to be aware that you might not like everything at these types of performance - but it might open your eyes to a new style or type of play that you wouldn't normally see.