Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Reviews Posted: A Hampstead Hooligan in King Arthur's Court and The Thin Man

Greetings all. I know it's been a while since I posted--I was simply not in the mood, and as this is not a real job, I am free to take such breaks. So I hope you all were well in my absence. I'll post on some of the fun pieces of news in the past few weeks soon, but for now, here are two reviews I wrote recently.

A Hampstead Hooligan in King Arthur's Court, from Chicago dell'Arte, is an enjoyable show. It has the misfortune of following last December's A Commedia Christmas Carol, which was so hilarious it hurt. As a result, this good but not great show was disappointing, but this group is really hilarious, and definitely worth seeing.

The Thin Man, at City Lit, was disappointing in comparison to its source material, Dashiell Hammet's snappy and fantastic novel. The stage version, sadly, is a bit of a snooze.

The Hampstead Hooligan review is here, the text is below:

Only after an improbable triumph can a well-done show feel deflating. Last December, Chicago dell'Arte, a company with the mission of using the principles of the 16th-century Italian theatrical form Commedia dell'Arte to create new plays, produced the utterly nonsensical, blissfully hilarious "A Commedia Christmas Carol." It was one of the funniest shows of 2008. The company's follow-up, "A Hampstead Hooligan In King Arthur's Court," is never less than fun to watch, but it only fitfully reaches the comic heights of which Chicago dell'Arte is capable.

The plot, based loosely on Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," follows Punch (Ned Record), a contemporary English soccer hooligan who, after a knock on the head, finds himself in Arthurian England. Once there, he contends with pompous knights (six of whom are played by the multi-accented, very funny Derek Jarvis), medieval barbarity and love.

The plot itself is responsible for the two biggest flaws keeping the show from genius. First off, it's way too complicated for such a ridiculous show; shows like this aren’t about the plot, and valuable gag time is used up while it's being told. Secondly, the marriage of the Commedia archetypes and Arthurian characters is an uneasy one; the parodies of medieval legends don't always jibe with the broad Commedia personas.

That being said, it's remarkable how funny this show is. Every cast member gets moments to shine and makes the best of them, from Sam Wootten's narcissistic Arthur convinced that a peasant is a zombie to Meghan Reardon and Ryan Musil's simpering Lancelot and Guinevere breaking out in a gleeful Charleston, to Jarvis somehow making truly awful puns seem the height of wit. The evening may not be up to the company's highest standard, but with such flashes of brilliance, who can complain for long?

The Thin Man review is here, and the text is below:

Classic crime fiction isn't classic because of the plotting, and Dashiell Hammett's "The Thin Man" is no exception. It doesn't really matter who did what to whom. The great pleasure of both the 1934 novel and the classic film version released the same year comes from the glorious banter of married sleuths Nick and Nora Charles as they solve a mystery in Manhattan, and the bizarre gallery of characters they encounter along the way.

So it's dispiriting to report that the new adaptation at City Lit Theatre, written by Terry McCabe and directed by Adrianne Cury, misses out on much of what makes the novel and film so much fun. The plot is intact, but it's not nearly as exciting as it should be.

The problem comes down to the central relationship. As Nick, William Bullion delivers a spot-on characterization; Nick's brilliance, his toughness, and his extraordinary reliance on alcohol are all vividly on display. But he's strongest in isolation; McCabe gives him large sections of narration, delivered straight to the audience. As a result, Nick alone is at the center of the story. His relationship with Nora is out of balance, and the banter doesn't pop off the stage.

Christina Gorman, as Nora, looks stunning in Nathan R. Rohrer's beautiful costumes, but she never seems Nick's equal. Between the short shrift she's given by the script and her own apparent discomfort with the part, she's never able to rise to his level.

Though many of the best lines and characterizations shine onstage, the script suffers in trying to imitate the book too closely. There are far too many short scenes, and the brief pauses in between add up to a serious drag on the pacing. In addition to the brilliant dialogue and visual style to spare, the show boasts some excellent supporting work; Shawna Tucker and Jake Jones give particularly tasty performances. But in the end if feels more dutiful than snappy — a sadly weak cocktail.



LizzyP said...

Hi Zev,

Love your blog. I was hoping I could send you some information about Brain Surgeon Theater's upcoming season. I'd love to get you to one of our performances.

Liz Ladach-Bark
Brain Surgeon Theater

Chicago said...

hey there - this is Scotty from ChicagoTheaterBlog.com. Just listed you on my blogroll list. Hey, I'm always looking for more critics, and I like your writing, so if you're ever interested, let me know.