We sent three of our writers to cover the first weekend of Chicago's biggest annual theatre festival! Check out what they have to say below and keep your eyes peeled for part two coming next week!
Anxiety Demonstrations (Transcendent Ensemble Theatre)
The aggressive marketing started in the lobby. Fliers were passed out promising to reduce anxiety by signing up for a class lead by tortured genius “Donna Smithsonian.” The pre-show marketing was a nice touch; a real life entry point that served as an engaging start to the class we were about to bear witness to.
Anxiety Demonstrations follows a cast of three characters, all with different forms of anxiety, and their interactions with their seemingly even more unstable instructor as they are led through various exercises to help them overcome their mental affliction. The dialogue is sharp and well written but the standout here is the cast: Transcendent Ensemble Theatre Company should be lauded for their commitment to their portrayal of their respective characters.
The major shortcoming of Anxiety Demonstrations is its ending. The writing does a fantastic job building up great elements of foreshadowing and mystery that unfortunately pays off in a way that feels shoehorned in. Previous narrative building around a story of overcoming mental health takes a sharp left turn in the final few minutes and runs counter to the character arcs the production was building from the start. It is fortunate, however, that the strong cast and acting on display relatively saves the production from losing the audience completely. Overall, Anxiety Demonstrations is an entertaining affair that should be included in your festival line up if you can forgive a spotty ending.
Review by Ryan Moore
Anxiety Demonstrations continues 9/8 at 8:30pm, 9/9 at 10:00pm, and 9/10 at 7:00pm.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon (The Hnossa Project)
Folk tales are a delightful constant in nearly every culture, and a truly skilled storyteller can use them to transport the listener to another, more fantastical version of our world for a spell.
Didrik Söderström, of the Brooklyn-based Hnossa Project, sets out to do just that in his solo performance of the traditional Scandinavian folk tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”. Using only his voice, a microphone, and an audio looping station, Didrik carefully crafts both ambiance and song throughout the course of the performance. His haunting soundtrack provides an immersive backdrop for the story of a young girl who must travel to the ends of the earth to reclaim her lost love.
Didrik’s skill at gradually layering sounds and vocals to build an enriching atmosphere without being distracting or overpowering is quite impressive. The core of the show however, is the writing and acting work done to concentrate a rather quirky piece of source material into a series of moving, human moments. Didrik and the Hnossa Project succeed admirably in bringing this tale to life, and the experience is well worth seeing.
Review by Eric Vierling
East of the Sun, West of the Moon completed its run on Monday, September 4.
Everyone has a favorite comfort food. A bowl of ice cream after dinner. A sliver of pie during Game of Thrones. A bottle of wine before bed…
But what happens if that soothing treat is rendered off-limits? Kelly Haramis presents her popcorn-jonesing journey in her one woman show, Hard-Core Corn at Chicago Fringe Fest. Based on her own struggles with a painful diagnosis of corn intolerance, Haramis dramatizes her tale through a series of vignettes and characters, jumping from a “newscast” about her struggles to find corn-free food to a “cooking show” regaling her food journey from college to adulthood.
Haramis’ contagious energy and commitment to the show make the journey an enjoyable one, but the show’s structure leaves something to be desired. While some bits, like the newscaster one, find a good balance between humor and facts, other moments, such as one where Haramis holds up signs throughout an entire song, seem out of place. With some material edits, this popcorny show could be a whole lot butter, but it’s still one worth lending an ear to in its current form.
Review by Emily Schmidt
Hard-Core Corn has one remaining performance on September 10th at 8:30pm.
Work to be Done (Spartan Theatre Co.)
Work to be Done is a show that does a lot well: the short stories are succinct, the overall narrative is engaging, and the light comedy is appreciated. However, it is unfortunate that the one man show falls a bit short of synergizing fully to deliver an impactful message.
The story follows a meta-narrative of a recently disgraced writer in his office as he both acts out his story ideas and interacts with members of his creative community. The short stories are wide in range, varying from a robot creating life to a child’s tales of adventure in an imaginary time machine. The stories are well acted - Andy Monson does a commendable job of selling these narratives and engaging the audience through body language and range of tone. The highlights of this show, though, are the phone calls with off stage characters as they deliver compelling allegories on topics as art as a competition and the bittersweet feeling of seeing a friend succeed past one’s own success.
These elements have the potential to be linked together to a great narrative on the creative process. The phone calls have real subjects to be discussed, but are unfortunately placed in the background in favor of seemingly quirky short stories. If some reworking was done to the writer’s drafts to link them to the overall narrative, the production would greatly benefit and deliver a solid message. The performance is well acted and engaging but still has (pardon the cliché) work to be done.
Review by Ryan Moore
Work to Be Done has one remaining performance on September 9 at 8:30pm.
Narratives of Achromatopsia
Iris Sowlat seeks to bring awareness to a rare visual impairment (one which she struggles with herself) in her documentary-style one-act, Narrative of Achromatopsia. The show, told from the first-person perspective of the character Iris, pieces together interviews from individuals around the world, presenting their struggles, their frustrations, and the daily adaptations that they must endure.
The subject matter is one which certainly deserves attention and, hopefully, increased understanding, but the execution of the show, from its script to its blocking, lacked consistency. Other than Kaitlin Stewart (Iris), all of the actors portrayed different characters. While some changed their voices, costume pieces, and props for each character, others showed little or no apparent alteration, making some of the transitions confusing. The blocking had characters crossing constantly and moving in awkward sequences, a noisy, distracting choice confounded further by the creaky stage. And, perhaps most troubling in terms of script construction, some of the characters addressed Iris, regardless of whether or not they directly interacted with her, while others spoke to the audience as a whole.
The show certainly succeeds in bringing recognition to this impairment and the struggles and triumphs of those suffering with it, but, as a play, it still needs a lot of work.
Review by Emily Schmidt
Narratives of Achromatopsia continues 9/9 at 4:00pm and 9/10 at 2:30pm.