Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Chicago Shakespeare

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called A Midsummer Night's Dream.  It was at Chicago Shakespeare. Shakespeare is actually one of my favorite playwrights.  I don't know why; he just does all this great stuff that has to do with life, and death, and hilarity.  If somebody asks, "The words are too hard; why do you like it?" I would say you just need to understand what the story is about. For example, Midsummer Night's Dream is about fairies, love, and comedy.  Shakespeare puts things in a way that people years from then--which is now--they still understand what he means.  He puts his words in a way that is funny, heartbreaking, and romantic.  And in all his plays you just feel amazed.

When the show started, Bottom led a song that said his name sort of.  It went buh buh buh botTOM.  I think it is funny because it had Bottom's name in it.  They switched the first scene with the second scene, so the actors getting together came first before Theseus (Timothy Edward Kane) and Hippolyta's (Tracy Michelle Arnold) meeting with Lysander (Andy Truschinski) and Demetrius (Matt Schwader) and Hermia (Christina Nieves) and Egeus (Kurt Ehrmann). By putting putting some of the funny stuff first, then you don't get the idea that it is going to be a dramatic death with a beautiful young girl dying for her love.  You get that this is going to be a hilarious comedy.

The director, Gary Griffin, disguised Puck (Elizabeth Ledo) as Sigmund Freud who was a psychiatrist and he also was interested in hysteria and the unconscious.  Hysteria is the research of women who have problems with doing things that are not good or appropriate...according to men.  Sometimes men can really not like women. I learned about hysteria from The Hysterical Alphabet which was about hysteria which Sigmund Freud was famous about.  It was made by Terri Kapsalis, Danny Thompson, and John Corbett. The unconscious is like when you do something but you don't know why you are doing it.  It is kind of like Othello.  He didn't know why he was killing his wife, and then he felt guilty and killed himself.  And that's basically the whole story.  It is a dramatic and not healthy story; you should not do what Othello did to himself or to his wife. 

So Sigmund Freud was on stage for awhile, and Helena (Laura Huizenga) was talking to him for a few seconds, and then he stayed on the stage.  Then he took off his hair. Then he took off his mustache.  Then he took off his jacket, and then he took off his pants and his shirt, and he was in his Puck outfit.  And then in big red letters on the screen over Sigmund Freud's picture it said PUCK! They used Sigmund Freud because people acted very weirdly in the play.  For example, the flower is kind of like a hysteria flower because it made Titania (Tracy Michelle Arnold) go bonkers.  She fell in love with a guy with a donkey's head, and that is not very smart.   

You know that Puck is a fairy because he does things that human people cannot do.  For example, he has lady parts and boy parts.  He can fly, is another, because he says "I'll put a girdle around the earth in forty minutes."  I think Elizabeth Ledo did a good job of pretending to be a boy.  She would just smoke this cigar and nod her head and stuff.  And then she would just walk around like a man would.  She just seemed so much like a boy.  And that is a very good thing because if she seems like she is a boy because she is pretending to be a boy that is a good thing.  And I think the director chose it that way because in lots of Shakespeare plays girls are dressed up like boys to get the rights that men would have.

One of my favorite scenes was the scene where the four lovers were fighting.  I liked the scene because it had my favorite lines in it.   When both the boys, Demetrius  and Lysander, were in love with Helena, Hermia gets really angry because they are both supposed to be in love with her, but she only wants Lysander to be in love with her.  The whole thing starts when Helena calls Hermia a puppet because she is shorter.  And then Hermia is really angry because puppet is a mean name--well, it used to be.  Then Hermia calls Helena a painted Maypole.  Then Helena gets super-duper angry. At the end of the scene, Oberon (Timothy Edward Kane) says, "What have you done, Puck?" because he has made Lysander not love Hermia, who is his true love.  After all this dramatic I-don't-love-you-anymore stuff Oberon is like "What have you done!" in such a funny way.

The Changeling Boy played by Matthew Abraham was so cute and so talented for his age.  The Changeling Boy is Titania's little boy who belonged to a good friend of hers, but then that friend died.  And she loved the Changeling Boy so much that she decided she could take care of him very well.  And she does. But then Oberon takes the Changeling Boy from her, but since at the end she loves Oberon again the Changeling Boy is going to be hers again. 

On the second half, the lights come up on Oberon and he says "I wonder if Titania be awaked?" And that is just really funny because we know that Titania hath been awaked and fell in love with a donkey, or in this case, an ass. Puck does some magic on Bottom (Ron Orbach) to make him make some mayhem.  The magic turns him into a donkey and then all the actors are scared away.  Bottom is a part of this weird group that do these regular things for a living, but then they decide that they would try to do a play for the Duke and almost-Duchess.   So, for example, Snug (Richard Manera), who plays the Lion, is a joiner.  And Bottom is a weaver, so he weaves dresses and shawls and stuff. So when they all get together in the first scene, they all are given parts and scripts. Flute (Levenix Riddle), the bellows mender, is given his part, which is Thisbe, who is the lady and beautiful maiden who loves Pyramus so dearly. He doesn't like it because it is a girl's part.

While they are performing "Pyramus and Thisby, a most tragical mirth," most of it is actually a long song.  And I think that is just really hilarious to have them sing because that is not what it usually is in the play.  Thisby sings her lines like the song "Rehab"--and that's a good thing, because that just makes it more funny.  The person that plays Starveling (Rod Thomas) was really funny because when somebody else was talking he would make his puppet dog talk and I thought that was really hilarious.  Tom Snout (Michael Aaron Lindner), the tinker, sang his songs kind of folky, and I think that is a good thing for a wall to sing--folk songs. When Peter Quince (Tim Kazurinsky) came out in the wedding scene, he was really scared to talk to them, so he was like sputtering in the middle of his lines. He was kind of excited because they has been requested. It made me feel like Peter Quince is a very funny person but he can also sometimes be a little scared. 

Mara Blumenfeld did a good job doing the costumes.  I like Titania and Oberon's outfits.  They were super crazy and creative.  And Oberon seemed kind of Indian, which is a cool thing to add. And the fairies' hats were super fun.  For example, Cobweb's hat was shaped like a big spiderweb.  It was really cool.  And Moth's hat was a big green moth hat made out of little moths.  He took out one and put it on the fairy queen so then she could sleep well.  So they are kind of like magical moth things.  And the wedding outfits were robes and long flowing gowns--some of them were pants and some of them were long flowing gowns.  I thought they were very very beautiful and also very cool to look at.

People who would like this show are people that like fairies, hilarity, and hysteria.  This show is different from other Midsummer Night's Dreams because it has Freud in it, is one, and it also has singing.  And it has grown-up fairies.  I think this show should be for ages 4 and up.  Just remind the kids that there is some kissing in it. People should come and see this play because it is funny, exciting, crazy, and it has costume creativity. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review of Chicago Children's Theatre's The Houdini Box

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Houdini Box. The Houdini Box is about a ten-year-old boy named Victor (Alex Weisman) who is big fan of Harry Houdini (Derek Hasenstab), and when he is at the train station he meets Harry Houdini himself. This boy is an admirer of Harry Houdini, but all his dreams of being a magician and becoming best friends with Harry Houdini are all discarded because Harry Houdini has been taken away from everybody’s life. Even his wife’s life. But it ends with an ending that is not heartbreaking. You feel happy that his dream has finally come true in the way that he didn’t want but it was still a good way.

One of my favorite scenes was the scene where Victor tried to get out of his grandmother’s trunk to be like Harry Houdini. His grandmother’s trunk was locked, and he’d never unlocked it before. Houdini got out of a trunk that was dropped into the water—in less that 20 seconds! When Victor got into the box, the box shook and you could hear “Help, help, please. Somebody? I’m in here!” It is funny that he cannot get out and the box is shaking like in cartoons. I like cartoons, so I thought this was funny. It is kind of funny that the box is shaking, but it is not funny that he is failing to get out. He needs to know that he does not have “magical powers” like Houdini. He doesn’t have any special picks or anything in there.

I liked the scene where Victor was playing with his Harry Houdini doll and was making it do the water torture cell trick. But all he could do was get a honey pot to do the water torture cell trick. And the Barker (Derek Hasenstab) said, “The ONE! The ONLY! Harry Houdini!” and then Harry Houdini the doll came out and was like “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” This scene tells you that Victor cannot actually have the things that Harry Houdini could have. He couldn’t have the real water torture cell or even one that kind of looked like it. It makes you feel sorry for Victor but kind of happy that he likes to pretend that he has things of Harry Houdini’s.

Right before they left for the train station, Victor's mother (Sara Sevigny) tied a rope to his hand and she took him outside. I thought that wasn't exactly how moms are, except for the ones in Cinderella. She wasn't a bad mom, she wasn't evil or anything. She didn't make him do all the housework. She did kind of want the best for him, but it wasn't the best for him because he liked magic. Why doesn't she just let him have magic like he wants? There are no villains in this, and she is not a villain, but you kind of feel sorry for Victor that he can't have magic. Sara also got to play Harry Houdini's wife. Bess is Harry Houdini's wife's nickname, but that is what everyone called her. Even Houdini called her this. She was so nice and so truthful to Victor about Houdini's death. And she is giving him a present of Houdini's and he wanted to give it to him, which was a box that had the initials carved into it: E.W. And E.W. stands for Erich Weiss. I know it looks like it is going to be a w sound, but it is actually a v sound--Veiss. I'm not going to give away the ending, but I will tell you that Erich Weiss is the name of a person who I cannot give away his true identity.

I think the puppets were cool. One of them was the bus that would just move along and the puppets of the Mother and Victor getting on the bus and them getting off the bus, and them getting on the train, and them getting off the train, and them getting to Aunt Harriet’s house. I liked it because they were not like finger puppets, and they were not like hand puppets, and they were not like marionettes. They were like shadow puppets only they had faces and you could see them. And at Aunt Harriet’s house, when the actual actors were playing the parts of Aunt Harriet and Victor and the Mother, they had the dolls that they would talk to Victor with, and I thought that was cool because the dolls were so small and the person was so big that it made them seem like they were Borrowers.

There was one problem with the puppets, which was that there was Victor’s son and he was just a hat, and gloves, and a baseball bat. I didn’t like this because it seemed like Victor's son was some kind of ghost or something. And if you looked at it, you kind of felt sad for Victor because you kind of felt like his kid was dead. They could have gotten an actor to play it or at least a puppet with a face.

The play is based on a book with the exact same name. It is by Brian Selznick. The play did have my favorite part in it, which is a happy part, which is one of my favorite lines. It is not a funny one, just a happy one. And it is “Victor locked himself inside his grandmother’s trunk and under twenty seconds.” In the play, he came out of a door in the room that was not connected to the box. It made you feel more happy for him because you actually got to see him escape and come out from somewhere else.

When you walked into the space, you knew it was going to be a good adaptation because the stage looked a lot like pictures from in the book. I liked how the actors could just bring apart the set, and there was a new set, and bring apart the set, and there was a new set, and so on. If you open a book, there will be another page behind it, so it was kind of like opening a book. Each set was like seeing another page. And I would like to say congratulations to Blair Thomas for making such a great set and directing very well and making the puppets good.

There are usually no songs in a book, but sometimes in comic books. I liked a lot of the songs (by Hannah Kohl and Mark Messing) in the play, but one of my favorites was “A Mother’s Day is Never Done” because it kind of showed kids what it would be like if they ever had kids. Victor sings it when he’s older, but this time “A Father’s Day is Never Done.”

In the scene where Victor is saying how "a father's day is never done," there are these things that pop out of the black curtain behind him. One is a work bag, two is a dinner, three is a story, and four is a pillow. And he would say "Work, dinner, story, sleep" over and over again. I liked how he was still straight up but there was a pillow that he would not actually lay down on. They would just bring it up next to his head, and he would close his eyes. He would do things over and over again and never stop; every day was just a regular old day. You feel sorry for him kind of because he never has time to do things that aren't everyday things.

People that like magic, mystery, and puppets would like this show. I think this show should be for ages 3 and up. People should go to this play because it is funny but also suspenseful. It is an awesome adaptation of The Houdini Box, and if anybody is born and misses it, I hope they do a remount.

Photos: Michael Brosilow