Lively Scenes of
Love and Combat
Playwright: Yussef El Guindi
At: Silk Road Theatre Project
at Chicago Temple,
77 W. Washington
Phone: 888-745-5849; $28-$32
Runs through: March 30
BY SCOTT C. MORGAN
Playwright Yussef El Guindi has important things to say regarding Arabs in American culture in Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat. Unfortunately, Guindi uses a dramatically contrived framework that reduces the characters to talking points in this world premiere for Silk Road Theatre Project.
Guindi and director Patrizia Lombardi Acerra start things off badly with an implausible prank. Highly successful Arab-American author Mohsen ( Andrew Navarro ) is just about to go onto a conservative talk show ( think something in the vein of The O'Reilly Factor ) to discuss his unflattering book about Arab culture called Jihad 101. Just before the show goes to air, phony make-up artist Gamal ( Kareem Bandealy ) arrives and makes him up to look like a clown.
While this is a perfect way to show one critic's guerilla tactics to humiliate someone, the way it's staged on the set of the talk show is totally unbelievable. Where are the camera men, floor runners and other TV studio personnel who are present seconds before a live TV goes to air? If staged in a isolated make-up room, it would of made more sense.
Next we meet Noor ( Monica Lopez ) , a promising writer who happens to be the on-again-off-again girlfriend of prankster Gamal ( who is also a writer ) . Literary agent Olivia ( Susie Griffith ) loves Noor's work, but tries to steer her to write a more autobiographical ( and stereotypical ) tale of an Arab woman embracing the West as a means to escape the female oppression in Arab culture.
For further persuasion, Olivia invites Noor to an intimate party with the publisher ( Don Bender ) . Mohsen is also in attendance, causing a huge argument with Noor. Yet somehow they end up in bed together following intermission.
While opposites frequently do attract, the pairing of Noor and Mohsen feels more like a contrived plot point to build drama instead of something that grows organically out of the situation or the characters' motivations.
Interspersed between this love triangle of tit-for-tat payback, we follow the experiences of Egyptian-American Sheikh Alfani ( Vincent P. Mahler ) and his son, Hani ( James Elly ) , who were also at the receiving end of one of Gamal's critical pranks. These scenes of a Alfani as a Muslim spokesman and his Americanized son feel like they're from another play.
So when Hani makes a confrontational appearance at the end, he feels like he's been tacked on just to give the play a shocking conclusion.
While the Our Enemies is flawed in its writing, the assembled cast and all the production values for Silk Road Theatre Project are all top-notch. The cast almost convinces in avoiding the trap of being ideological talking heads, but ultimately Guindi's plotting gets the better of them.
Playwright: music and lyrics by Cole Porter,
book by Abe Burrows
At: Circle Theatre,
7300 W. Madison, Forest Park
Phone: 708-771-0700; $24
Runs through: April 6
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
Why is this musical performed so rarely? Doesn't its plot boast a variation on the 'can't stop the music' theme, so beloved of American audiences? Doesn't its personnel feature a judge in love with the proprietress of an illegal dance hall, and an artist prepared to sacrifice his girl friend's fidelity in exchange for a good critical notice? Doesn't the score include some of Cole Porter's greatest hits ( including C'est Magnifique, I Love Paris, and It's All Right With Me ) ? And doesn't its setting in the Montmartre district just outside of Paris during the belle époque, immortalized in the art of Toulouse-Lautrec, guarantee oodles of romantic atmosphere?
With all these virtues, however, come challenges as well: Many of the songs require a vocal dexterity beyond that of your average non-equity warblers. And there's no denying the can-can's status as one of the most athletic dances in that discipline's history, its figures encompassing a display of terpsichorean gymnastics—multiple pirouettes, Raggedy Ann splits, 180-degree kicks, windmill somersaults and cartwheels—demanding a squadron of smiling hoofers with sinews of steel, ankles like tower columns and the stamina of race horses.
A low-budget storefront production can scarcely be blamed for failing to muster all of the elements needed for so ambitious a venture. Circle Theatre has forged itself a reputation for essaying projects seemingly exceeding its resources, however, and the company assembled by Director/Choreographer Kevin Bellie sprint through their paces with unflagging energy and not-inconsiderable technique, spurred on by music director Allison Kane and her four-piece orchestra. From the ballet-inspired Quat'z-Arts Ball scene to the dionysic revels celebrated in the title, we are witness to spectacle reflecting the uninhibited exuberance we have come to associate with la vie de bohéme.
Jeremy Rill, whom Chicago playgoers will recall as Satan in Bailiwick's premier production of Jerry Springer: The Opera, easily navigates Porter's intricate phrasing in the role of the buttoned-up magistrate, while Elizabeth Lanza makes a game, if slightly undersized, businesswoman likewise undone by l'amour. And while the extreme youthfulness of its cast members—some of them veterans of Circle's recent production of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and others barely out of the classroom—sometimes pushes the ambience to the edge of drollery, their sheer enthusiasm nevertheless succeeds in keeping the stage picture always vibrant and engaging.
Bear Force One
Playwright: Conceived by Tim Paul;
written by the company
At: The Annoyance, 4830 N. Broadway
Phone: 773-561-4665; $15
Runs through: April 25, Fridays only
BY JONATHAN ABARBANEL
I've discovered where real men go at 8 p.m. on Friday night while the circuit boys are taking their naps. The real men are at Bear Force One, the hairy gay send-up of the Harrison Ford action film, Air Force One. The bear-ish cast definitely mirrors the show's audience, and both cast and audience love it.
In the film a low-ranking member of the President's Cabinet becomes President himself. In Bear Force One, set in 2009, a Catholic terrorist organization assassinates President Clinton, VP Obama and a string of successors, including Ted Kennedy and Chuck Norris, until the presidency settles on the gay bear Secretary of Agriculture, Buck Marshall. With his First Cub and adopted daughter in tow, Buck sets Air Force One on course for Fur Fest until the Catholic assassins—who happen to be female conjoined twins in this version—take over the plane.
Is Bear Force One good? Well, no. It's a totally silly, skit-like story offering little in the way of production values, loosely cobbled together through an improvisational process by its 10 cast members. Is it sassy and fast and frequently funny and often crude? Well, yes. First Daughter India-China bursts into show tunes at the drop of an emotion ( as do several of Buck's bear advisors ) , and the assassins accuse Buck of 'running from us like a twink.' The terrorists threaten to shave the First Cub, a torture worse than death. To take back his plane, President Marshall ( 'call me Buck' ) and his followers strip down and 'bear up' in jockstraps, cut-off shorts and leather.
Dressed to stomp, they are not exactly a gang of Colt muscle bears. Indeed not one of them looks like he ever heard of a gym. But they are authentic in looks and attitude ( but not serious attitude ) as they breezily wing their way through the tale, sometimes literally winging as they improvise bits around the set story. In other words, Bear Force One is a typical down-and-dirty, fast-and-loose, non-PC Annoyance Productions show. Buy your drink at the bar, sit back, buckle up and take it like a man. It only lasts 90 minutes, including a brief intermission.
The Bear Force One cast features Tim Paul ( Buck ) , Steve Hnilicka ( First Cub ) and Emily Candini ( India-China ) in the principal roles. The director—a loose term in a show like this—is Leah Gotcsik.
The Annoyance always has been an LGBT-friendly place, hovering on the edge of a formal LGBT identity without ever going over. As Annoyance Productions founder Mick Napier said to me about Bear Force One, 'It's really retarded,' which he meant in the best possible way, possums.
Bear Force One plays Fridays only at 8 p.m.