The award winning Shattered Globe Theatre Company after 19 years, 61 productions and 42 Jeff Awards and Citations has closed.
They have cancelled their 2009-10 season due to financial constraints.
The Little Foxes
At the Shattered Globe Theatre
By Dan Zeff
CHICAGO—Give the Shattered Globe Theatre a classic American play and almost certainly the company will return pure theatrical gold. The current example—a triumphant revival of Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes.”
At one level, “The Little Foxes” is a supreme example of the
dysfunctional family melodrama, featuring betrayal, greed, theft, and murder.
The play also claims to be a cautionary tale about the devastation moral
corruption can inflict on a society.
The drama is a group portrait of the predatory Hubbard clan at the turn of the nineteenth century, a family conniving to rise from the economic rubble of the Civil War to the wealth and power of the new era of capitalism in the Deep South.
The core Hubbards consist of brothers Oscar and Benjamin and sister Regina. The story revolves around the machinations of the Hubbards to invest in a cotton mill that promises to make them all millionaires. The stumbling block is the family’s difficulty in raising its share of the money to finalize the partnership with a Northern entrepreneur. Benjamin and Oscar have their portion of the money but Regina’s essential share is being blocked by her ailing husband Horace, an honorable man revolted by Hubbard avarice.
The play is better as a thriller than as social commentary. One almost has to admire how the perverse Hubbards manipulate each other for advantage in the mill deal. Decency and family feeling are the first men down in this account of cynical money grubbing.
One key to the brilliance of the Shattered Globe staging is its balance. Normally, the play is dominated by the fascinating but vicious Regina, a role that has attracted strong willed actresses from Tallulah Bankhead and Elizabeth Taylor to Bette Davis (in the film version). But in Linda Reiter, the Shattered Globe has a dominating actress who has delivered indelible portraits of strong willed women on local stages for years.
Reiter is terrific, and she is joined by a slew of superb performances that make the production a marvel of ensemble acting. Kevin Kenneally provides a flawless rendering of Benjamin Hubbard, an outwardly hearty and genial man who is the family’s callous arch schemer. Don Bender is almost uncomfortably authentic as Oscar Hubbard, a brutal man who tyrannizes over his pathetic and kindhearted wife Birdie (played with aching understated pain by Eileen Niccolai).
The younger generation is represented by Oscar’s son Leo, a burgeoning image of his father in his casual cruelty, and Regina’s 17-year old daughter Alexandra, who somehow has eluded the family savagery to grow into a young woman of integrity and sympathy. Credit Drew Schad (Leo) and Madeline Long (Alexandra) with credible renderings of these polar opposite characters. Ted Hoerl is first rate as the ailing Horace Giddens, determined to block the ruthless Hubbard steamroller.
Robert Dennison has a strong scene in the first act as the Northern industrialist looking to hook up with the Hubbards, no ethical questions asked. Carolyn Nelson and Bryson Engelen round out the cast as the Hubbard servants, honorable and oppressed victims of the family’s racism and all around malevolence.
Thanks to Brandon Bruce’s insightful directing, the scenes flow with absorbing and occasionally chilling inevitability. Bruce rightfully emphasizes the play’s rich canvas of characters and lets the social commentary peak through only when the script makes Hellman’s preachiness unavoidable.
The staging is enhanced by a wonderful physical production, led by the fine detailed interior set by Melania Lancy and Joanna Melville’s period costumes. Anthony Ingram designed the sound and Mike Durst the lighting.
The audience is free to draw parallels between the rapacity of the Hubbards more than a century ago and the social climate of today. Avarice has always been with us and there will always be people who go to any lengths to accumulate wealth. What sets “The Little Foxes” apart is not its social finger wagging but its stunning gallery of personalities, every one of them brought to gripping life by this unbeatable Shattered Globe revival.
“The Little Foxes” runs through March 8 at the Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 North Lincoln Avenue. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $30 and $35. Call 773 404 7336 or visit www.shatteredglobe.org.
The show gets a rating of four stars. January 2009
Contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Glass Menagerie
at the Shattered Globe Theatre
By Dan Zeff
CHICAGO--“The Glass Menagerie” is possibly the most familiar classic in American drama (rivaled only perhaps by “Our Town”). But a beautifully acted and creatively directed production can still grab and move an audience. Consider the exceptional revival by the Shattered Globe Theatre.
Shattered Globe director Kevin Hagan hasn’t reinvented the play but he’s given it lots of thought. He’s returned to the playwright’s original conception, which featured slides, movie images, and titles flashed against the back wall of the stage. Those visual elements were omitted from the original Broadway version and the play works well enough without them, but the visuals do serve as effective signposts in guiding the viewer through the episodic play’s several scenes.
At the Shattered Globe, Amanda still revels in her memories of a privileged Southern upbringing, before she married the charming but feckless man who deserted her and their two children 16 years before the start of the play. But in Linda Reiter’s luminous portrayal, Amanda is a fighter and survivor, a bitter and domineering woman who still has managed to keep her fatherless family together, always on the edge of humiliating genteel poverty. Reiter’s Amanda can be maddening, but the viewer has got to admire her grit and her devotion to her two children, no matter how many rows she stirs with her fussy overprotection.
Allison Batty’s Laura carries an unusual amount of substance as a character. Certainly the young woman is pathetic in her shyness and her retreat into her private world of her glass menagerie. But at the Shattered Globe Laura is more than just a wispy, lonely figure or a study in pathology. Batty gives her dramatic weight and we pay attention to Laura as a human being and not just an ethereal shadow.
In this production, the most fragile character is not Amanda or Laura but Laura’s brother Tom, the playwright’s stand-in and the play’s narrator. Normally Tom is the controlling agent in the play, the strongest and most illusion-free figure in the story. But David Dastmalchian’s Tom is a young man living on his nerve ends, seething with frustration as he surveys his dead end present life and looking toward a future of freedom to roam the world and write his poetry, away from the claustrophobic family apartment. In this version Tom may be the most vulnerable person in the story, an unconventional viewpoint that further enriches the staging.
The final character is Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller, who appears in the last act and gives Laura a brief taste of affection and tries to guide her away from what he correctly sees as Laura’s inferiority complex, a complex far too deeply rooted psychologically to be cured by Jim’s few moments of well intentioned kindness. Michael Falevits plays O’Connor with a winning sincerity garnished with a sense of a young man who may have had his best years in high school and now finds his life disappointing. But as the eternal optimist, Jim sees better days ahead. I’ve never seen O’Connor’s long scene with Laura played with more intelligence and sensitivity.
The physical production, so vital to the success of this staging, resides in the accomplished hands of Hagan (the exceptionally realistic set), Shelley Strasser Holland (the crucial expressionistic lighting design), Joanna Melville (the fine 1930’s period costumes), and Mike Tutaj and Kevin Viol (the sound and video design).
A couple of tiny quibbles. The props and actor placement sometimes block the audience’s view of the slide display. And the wording of a few of the titles curiously did not match the dialogue they were supposed to replicate. But those are mere pinprick cavils that count for nothing against the achievement of this memorable presentation of one of the really great plays in American drama.
How moving is this revival? I’ve seen this show countless times but in the final moment when Laura blows out her candles, for the first time I choked up.
“The Glass Menagerie” runs through November 2 at the Victory Gardens Green House Theater Center, 2257 North Lincoln Avenue. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $30 and $35. Call 773 404 7336 or visit www.shatteredglobe.org.
The show gets a rating of four stars. Sept. 2008Contact Dan at email@example.com
A Taste of Honey
at the Shattered Globe Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Taste of Honey is one of the great one-hit wonders of 20th century
British drama. The play opened in London in 1958 and made an instant star out
of its 19-year old playwright, Shelagh Delany. The teenager’s drama displayed
the power and theatricality that promised a spectacular career.
Delany never came close to replicating the success of her first play, but “A Taste of Honey” still stands as one of the great English dramas to follow the revolution instigated by John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger” in 1956. Chicago audiences are privileged to view how well the play holds up after half a century in the triumphant revival by the Shattered Globe Theatre.
“A Taste of Honey” is set in a working class neighborhood in Manchester, England. All the action takes place in a grungy apartment occupied by a slattern of a 40-year old woman named Helen and her rebellious and love-starved teenaged daughter, Jo.
Three male characters move in and out of the lives of the two women. A sleazy womanizer named Peter Smith marries the promiscuous Helen and takes her away from Jo, at least temporarily. Left on her own, Jo has a brief affair with a black sailor that leaves her pregnant and abandoned after the sailor goes back to sea, disappearing from the story.
To fill the vacuum created by Helen’s absence, a gay young man named Geof moves in with Jo and takes on the role of caregiver and surrogate mother. This odd couple lives in compatible companionship until Helen returns, her husband predictably having thrown her out of his house in favor of a younger woman. The vengeful Helen kicks Geof out of the apartment and at the end of the play, we see Jo, alone again, awaiting the birth of her baby and facing an unknown but certainly bleak future.
Although Helen and Jo occasionally address the audience directly, the play is a study in naturalism, down to the thick Manchester accents. Delany wrote a gritty story, sidestepping sentimentality and soap opera melodrama. Putting the working class on stage was a novelty in English drama of the late 1950’s, and there was still a controversial edge to portraying blacks and gay men without descending to stereotypes or patronizing. And the injection of mixed race sex, though offstage, was a real rarity.
Needless to say, audiences are no longer shocked by watching realistically rendered blacks and gays on stage, and dramas about working class characters are commonplace. So the success of “A Taste of Honey” today does not emerge from any cutting edge narrative. The play soars on its vivid characters and especially its high-tension scenes between Helen, the mother from hell, and Jo, trying to mask her innocence and vulnerability beneath a veneer of feisty independence.
The Shattered Globe production was halfway home with the casting of Linda Reiter as Helen. Reiter has earned raves for her portraits of fierce, indomitable women in previous Shattered Globe productions. Lucky patrons thrilled to her brilliant performances in “Suddenly Last Summer” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Reiter’s Helen is hatefully vulgar and sluttish, but the woman shows traces of vulnerability that almost but not quite redeem her vicious and self-serving treatment of her daughter.
Shattered Globe found a perfect match for Reiter’s Helen in the young English actress Helen Sadler, who delivers a breakout performance as the resourceful teenager bravely fighting battles no young woman who have to fight against a vile mother and an unyielding class system.
Three fine complimentary performances come from Jeremy Van Meter as the boozing and nasty Peter Smith, Kevin Viol as the sensitive but sturdy Geof, and Bryson Engelen as Jo’s sympathetic sailor boyfriend of the moment.
Jeremy Wechsler directs all the emotional fireworks with a sure but unobtrusive hand. Kevin Hagan designed the authentic and functional semi-slum apartment set. Cybele Moon’s costume designs, Christopher Kriz’s sound, and Mike Durst’s lighting round out the first rate physical production.
For all its kitchen sink realism, “A Taste of Honey” has no social or political agenda. Delany wrote with honesty, unflinching realism, sympathy, and a bit of humor, all notable for a lack of preaching. It was a remarkable achievement for a 19-year old, or a playwright of any age, and it’s a shame she never managed another comparable work. But at least she left us one classic, staged to perfection by the Shattered Globe.
“A Taste of Honey” runs through July 5 at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse, 2257 North Lincoln Avenue. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $27 to $35. Call 773 871 3000.
The show gets a rating of four stars. May 2008
For more information: www.shatteredglobe.org