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Theater: Pajama Game

This article shared 3864 times since Wed May 26, 2004
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Playwright: George Abbott, Richard Bissell, Richard Adler & Jerry Ross

At: Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire

Phone: (847) 634-0200; $40 (plus tax)

Runs through: July 3

The audience oohed and ahhed when they heard 'Hey, There,' 'Steam Heat' and 'Hernando's Hideaway.' People buzzed, 'I didn't know that was from The Pajama Game.' There are lesser-know gems, too, especially 'A New Town is a Blue Town,' a bluesy ballad cut from the film version of the show that has become a cabaret standard. Yes, it's a classic score from the Golden Era of Broadway and it's given the usual First Class treatment at the Marriott Theatre in a thoroughly engaging production with all musical values intact.

Told against the background of a labor action at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, circa 1954, The Pajama Game is the romance of tough but beautiful union member Babe Williams and the new factory superintendent, handsome and manly Sid Sorokin. A comic side plot centers on efficiency expert Hines and his jealousy-fueled romance with Gladys, the boss' secretary. The show never has lost its popularity, and the lively book and score are the reasons why. Also, the stage original has some welcome sexual innuendo removed in the sanitized film.

That's not to say The Pajama Game isn't without dead wood. The forgettable character numbers 'Her Is' and 'Think of the Time I Save' were cut in the transition from Broadway to Hollywood, and wisely so. And the Hines-Gladys relationship is rather poorly developed. Since they never have a scene or song as a couple, it's a bit specious to establish Hines' jealous rage. But, hey there, that's musical comedy!

The charming cast features shapely Heidi Kettenring as Babe and tall/dark/handsome Brian Herriott as Sid. Both are popular Marriott veterans who have genuine chemistry and fine singing chops. Sprightly Evan Pappas is Hines to the bodacious Gladys of Rachel Rockwell (who struts her stuff nicely in 'Steam Heat'), but Marriott uber-favorite Alene Robertson steals the biggest comic moments in the smaller supporting role of Mabel. Robertson doesn't need lines; she extracts laughs from looks, shrugs and even pauses. As the factory owner, it's good to have rock-solid veteran Malcolm Rothman back on stage after a four-year hiatus.

Director Stafford Arima plays the 1950's one-liners and baggy-pants (literally) comedy as if they were brand new, and the rather geriatric Marriott audience eats it up. The leap-filled, athletic choreography by Patti Wilcox chiefly is wholesome and peppy, with an exception for 'Steam Heat,' which offers an appropriate homage to the pelvic style of Bob Fosse's original (the first time his signature bowler hats and clingy black outfits appeared). Musical director Lynne Shankel guides a tight band and a strong vocal ensemble. Indeed, the attractive cast and classic score will have you singing along if you're not careful.

Inside My Mouth

Playwright: The Cast

At: The Neo-Futurists

Phone: (773) 275-5255: $12

Runs through: June 19

By Jonathan Abarbanel

Three times Noelle Krim assembles a stack of large, cardboard blocks, aligning the patterns on different sides to construct portraits of three women. The first portrait is Krim's grandmother, the second is her mother. Krim doesn't introduce them, but the details of her narrative tip us off, and the final portrait of Krim herself confirms the relationship.

Between the block-building, Siri Sonty describes the struggle between traditional culture and being your own, contemporary person. American-born of Asian Indian parents, Sonty escaped the confines of the sari and an arranged marriage, the latter ending with the early death of her husband. 'Do I owe my culture my whole life?' she asks. Her question is echoed by her fellow cast members of different ethnicities, all equally weighed down by what they call the 'collective cultural grandmother.'

If there is a through-line to Inside My Mouth, it's found in the personal histories of Krim and Sonty. By force of facts or tricks of staging, their stories emerge as more compelling than those of their fellow writers and performers, Geneva Gallo and Sharon Greene. Like the polyglot platoon in old WWII movies, they represent a cross-section of female types: married, dating, lesbian with partner and widow, and all 29 years old. Together, they create a collective cultural grand-daughter: a profile—not a full portrait—of the contemporary, liberal, artistic younger woman striving for complete liberation, self-identification and self-acceptance. These self-ware women seem well along the way, with a sense of confidence and pleasure in whom/what they are that is infectious.

As directed (she prefers 'conceived and curated') by Gallo, there are several elements besides Krim's blocks that add theatrical interest, among them clips from Disney classics (Snow White and Sleeping Beauty), snippets of pop songs (String of Pearls, I Enjoy Being A Girl) commenting on the spoken text, and a small amount of fairly painless audience interaction. Dressed in jeans and black tops and casually staged, the women work the speckled floor that bears their names and four big, red sets of kissy lips.

The text offers enough moving and amusing moments to draw one in and keep one's ears alert. With very little that's overtly political, and without strident rhetoric, Inside My Mouth repeatedly contrasts the idealized woman (Disney fairytales) against the conundrums of life, the traditional woman against contemporary reality. Men have little presence in this show, even as dimly reflected images. Inside My Mouth is neither ground-breaking nor profoundly revelatory, but it's definitely entertaining and broadly appealing without self-indulgence.

'I am my mother's art, my father's science,' the women intone. 'I am older than I look, I am stronger than I look. I am ready.' And so is Inside My Mouth


Playwright: Sarah Ruhl

At: Piven Theatre Workshop

at Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston

Phone: (847) 866-8049; $23 to $25

Runs through June 20


The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice can be touching to anyone who has ever clung onto the memory of a deceased loved one. Different cultures and generations throughout the millennia have retold and revamped its basic story of a mourning musician and the extremes he goes to try and bring his wife back to life. Some end with Orpheus being shred into pieces while others feature a blissful reunion.

Chicago native Sarah Ruhl recently jumped into the fray with her 2003 stage version of the myth titled Eurydice, now in its Chicago debut at Evanston's Piven Theatre Workshop. By excluding the man in the title of her play, Ruhl shows where her main interests lie: Eurydice's experiences in the underworld over of Orpheus' typical musical mourning.

This shift allows Ruhl to ruminate on the precarious dangers of clinging onto one's memories too long while showing the tragedy of forgetting them all too soon. It's a paradox that Ruhl doesn't provide a clear answer for, leaving it up for the audience to think over.

In the play, it is Eurydice's caring deceased father who unwittingly cuts his daughter's life short. Unlike other souls wandering the underworld, Eurydice's father refuses to let the water of the Styx River make him forget about his life on earth. So when a letter he writes to Eurydice on her wedding day is intercepted by the Lord of the Underworld, it sets off a chain of events that ends tragically.

Ruhl's dialogue may be too precious and cutesy for some (especially in Orpheus and Eurydice's lovey-dovey opening scene). Other times it can be laughably rubbed off as being too cerebrally arty and self-important (Orpheus' brief mourning interludes can sound very surfer Zen).

But those who get into the groove of Ruhl's efforts will admire her heart-felt notions of memory, love and loss. This spare framework allows a creative director and production team to richly fill in the blanks, which is exactly what director Joyce Piven and scenic and lighting designers Polly Noonan and Lynne Koscielniak do.

Eurydice features a theatrical world of symbolic strings, hanging lights, water basins and decaying antiques that is very redolent of Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman (she herself explored multiple takes on the Orpheus myth in her 1998 Metamorphoses). Costumer Janice Pytell also adds to the wonderment with a grab bag of costume styles ranging from school yard punk for David Gray's petulant child-like lord to smart designer grandmother outfits for Maya Friedler in faded pinks and elegant black. David Earle's sound design of 1930s music and freight elevator effects are also eerily atmospheric.

Polly Noonan comes off best as Eurydice, torn between her two loves: her new husband Orpheus (Sean Cooper in sensitive new age artist mode) and her doting father (Bernard Beck who revels in his character's woebegone memories). Noonan's confusion over her place in two very uncertain worlds is endearing. It's just one of many superb elements that help make Eurydice into such a richly thoughtful theatrical exercise.

Studs Terkel's 'The Good War'

Playwright: David H. Bell & Craig Carnelia, adapted from the oral

history by Studs Terkel

At: Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Performing, Skokie

Phone: (847) 673-6300; $32-$48

Runs through: June 20


'Uncle Sam ain't no woman/but he sure can take your man.' Even before we hear these words, we know this is not going to be a flag-waving, feel-good, hooray-for-us pageant. Oh, an American soldier sings 'Dear Mother' as he writes home, but his wistful ditty is juxtaposed with a German soldier singing 'Gute Nacht Mutter' as HE writes home. In another scene, fighter pilots confess to never viewing their targets up close, a mother croons a lullaby to her baby over the noise of exploding shells, and children—British, German and Japanese—recall homes destroyed by falling bombs. Even the show's title assumes a Brechtian irony when the cheerful 'Straighten Up And Fly Right' introduces baseball-playing Yanks in the Philippines who suddenly find themselves a part of the legendary Bataan 'Death March'.

What else could David H. Bell and Craig Carnelia have done, however? The hardest-working units in any war are not the combat troops, but the propaganda machines. Terkel's testimonials reveal a more complex view of America under stress, and to ignore this is to surrender to martial fantasy.

So while we are shown joyful reunions of returning Joes and their patiently waiting sweethearts, another damsel talks of over-hasty marriages precipitated by romantic Hollywood-generated images. Backed by the jazz rhythms of 'G.I. Jive', an eager enlistee recounts his struggle with a military bureaucracy suspicious of his experience with anti-Franco forces in Spain. And a veteran reminds us of the day that the Russian and American allies met in fraternal harmony on the banks of the river Elbe.

A mere eight players (with guitarist Johnse Holt taking the stage to bear witness to racism in the ranks) might seem inadequate to reconnoiter an entire war in under two intermissionless hours—but victory rewards the team, not the individual. And the team assembled by David H. Bell—acting, singing and technical alike—execute their docudramatic duties with an ease and gravity lending their many-faceted montage a panoramic scope far exceeding its physical boundaries.

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