Saturday, September 14, 2019

American Maniacs Unlimited at Elgin Fringe Fest

History, Politics, Geography, Business — everything gets skewered* in "Manifest Destiny," the latest production by your friends from last year's Robert Frosty Theater Company.

Who says pirates can't attack your Montana hat shop? Who says the world market can't run on rutabagas? Who says you can't combine pitch day in the writer's room with the 1994 hit "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Deep Blue Something? This is America, dammit, and it's our destiny!

(And this is what happens when you reorganize a small Chicago theater company which is interested in exploring other media and has a tight Instagram following ... and you don't have a mission statement.)

But once again, the award for "Best Anachronistic or Cross-Species Stage Violence" goes to ... you guessed it, American Maniacs!

Don't be the Saddest Boy in Illinois —put on that adult diaper and get down here to see their last show Sunday at 3pm at the Elgin Art Showcase. We know for a fact that people have been disemboweled for lesser reasons. What we don't know: was it horsemeat steaks? or horseburger?

* No crocodiles, cowboys, fishmongers, pirates, vikings, horses, little ponies, poets, puppeteers, führers or senators were physically harmed in the production of this show.

Chasity Gunn at Elgin Fringe Festival

First premise: We can't separate ourselves from our skin color. It's a coat we cannot take off and put away in the closet. And our coats aren't necessarily tailored for us — they may not flatter us.

Second premise: The world says that lighter is better.

This is the essential conflict of "The Sin in My Skin," by Elgin Poet Laureate Chasity Gunn, who uses original poetry, songs, found texts and character cameos to comment on her experience as a woman of color. This is no plain vanilla poetry reading; it's a powerful theatrical performance by a great writer whose speaking and singing voice is as clear and beautiful as her literary voice.

The costumes in this piece are more than just character accessories. They are symbolic skins that can be put on and taken off at will. Some can shed the weather, some can accentuate the figure, some can signal identity.

But when the coats come off, the last layer remains. To paraphrase another poet addressing the Great Bag Stuffer, "I am fearfully and wonderfully Brown."

Chasity Gunn presents this work one more time at Elgin Fringe Festival, Sunday at 1:30pm in the Exhibit Hall at the Hemmens Cultural Arts Center.

Thank You So Much For Coming at Elgin Fringe Festival

Note: the views expressed in this review do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editor or publisher of The Elgin Review.

Bonanza! This show has everything you love about perceived reality: song, dance, surveys, talk shows and headline news! It's called performance art because it defies standard classifications.What do you call a piece that begins with an audience assessment and ends with a campfire?  It's called "There Will Be a Test."

By way of a series of vignettes without clear boundaries, you'll travel from slow motion talking heads to a talking body to singing cowboys, and discover that reality is absurd at both extremes of space and knowledge. But fact, fallacy and fiction have one thing in common: it's all great material.

If it were possible to create a didactic piece of art whose agenda was the anti-agenda, it might look like this. And if the thing you remember most about a performance is the ending, then when Dad says it's bedtime, you trust him.

"This just in: Objectivism has been downgraded from Threatened to Endangered."

Maddy and Scott of Thank You So Much For Coming are just what this Fringe Festival needs. If only they had one more segment on Sunday ... but it's so hard to capture the 18-54 demographic in that time slot when the NFL is on another channel.

T.J. Regul at Elgin Fringe Festival

He's a bit of a ham, and just a little corny. But what did you expect from "The Quad Cities Magician," T.J. Regul from the Land of Ham and Corn?

How about drinking milk, making puppies, and collecting coins? Those are some of the excellent sleight of hand magic feats you'll see, performed seamlessly behind polished, old-fashioned showmanship.

And as T.J. points out: it's not about fooling you, nor about "believing" in magic, it's about having fun. And it is fun, funny, and fundamentally traditional, clean magic that all ages will enjoy.

"I'm a very big nerd," he says at one point in the show. But he is a charismatic nerd with a fringe heart of gold that every kid in the audience (and the kids at heart) fell in love with in 55 minutes or less.

Last chance to see Elgin native T.J. Regul is Saturday at 6pm at the Exhibition Hall at the Hemmens Cultural Center.

Your Silent Partner at Elgin Fringe Festival

There's been more talk about "Your Silent Partner" at the Elgin Fringe Festival than maybe any other show. If you're reading this and haven't seen it, then don't miss your last chance on Sunday at 3pm at the Exhibition Hall, downstairs at Hemmens Cultural Center.

The program description is mostly right: it's an interactive show featuring a silent clown with a showcase of collected objects. But leave your preconceptions behind and trust the Fringe buzz. You've never laughed so hard at giraffes, making a paper airplane, or blowing up a balloon.

For an act with no speaking the sound track is crucial, and the upbeat music in "Help Me Help You Help Yourself" blends with non-stop giggling, occasionally interrupted by uproarious outbursts of laughter.

Without spoiling anything, let's just leave this with two observations: (1.) sometimes the funniest things are what doesn't happen, and (2.) art is messy.

Tangi Colombel at Elgin Fringe Festival

In a Fringe World of queer-positive art, it's refreshing to see an act that dares to trip your trigger with old school humor, piano bar classics and a necktie.

Tangi Colombel is l'Amiricain en Miami in "Pardon my French," an hour-long cabaret show filled with music, light comedy and a captivating French accent that reminds you of everything you've ever seen in a movie set in a 1960's Parisian bar, complete with piano accompaniment.

Colombel is sweet and funny, and seems honest in his patter poking fun of French stereotypes. He might trample a little on your wokeness, but you'll forgive him because he's so cute and well, he's French!

Vraiment il se vend ... mais il est une bonne affaire ... pour seulement dix dollars!

This show is Frenchie and Fringey as hell. Come laugh and sing along with l'Amiricain!  Saturday at 6pm or Sunday at 4:30pm upstairs at Elgin Public House.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Melanie Moseley at Elgin Fringe Festival

In this autobiographical trip through modern relationship structures, "the gospel of sex positivity" is just one of the unexpectedly real expressions that may confront the more Puritanical of you. And yes, it's explained in "the Bible of ethical non-monogamy."

In "Sexology: The Musical," Mel Moseley combines storytelling, songs and humor to explore her evolution from traditional — but dysfunctional — monogamy to solo polyamory. It's part teaching and part confession, but those are really two sides of the same coin: truth telling.

She portrays three parts of herself with distinct props, posture and accents which serves to illustrate the delicate balance of integrity and compartmentalization that is necessary to thrive in a social milieu of fluid sexuality and fragile partnerships.

Her voice is bold and folksy like a preacher because she is a true believer: a believer in love, consent, good sex, equality, and enjoying our bodies while we can. Prepare to be "comperted." 

Check out Mel at the Fringe!

Madeline O'Malley at Elgin Fringe Festival

Snapshots of post-divorce dating, swimwear shopping, colonoscopies and mammograms scroll past you like an Instagram album of life after 40 as Madeline O'Malley knits together humorous personal stories in "This is 40." Which is not to suggest that knitting is something that "older ladies" do.

She is generous with relatable details that her female audience can appreciate, and resists almost all temptation to man-bash in this very funny and obscenity-free show. As a teacher by day, she must be fearless in front of a room full of people, fearless enough to wear white pants after Labor Day.

With a natural delivery free from over-rehearsed stiffness, she makes it look easy to reel off her vignettes and one-liners, so easy that one audience member shouted "you make me want to try stand up!"

She is easy to listen to, and it totally helps when you have original bits like "Spanx for Men," "Two Alexas," and "Buying Weed for Dad in a Home Depot Parking Lot." But beware: you'll see about 50 minutes of material, while sitting in a 45-minute chair. Predose with ibuprofen!

Catch "This is 40" Saturday at 9pm and Sunday 3pm at The Loft of Elements Preserved.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Marga Gomez at Elgin Fringe Festival

The moment Marga Gomez walks on stage, you recognize the natural talent for subtle comedic movement, character voices, great timing and a practiced, self-conscious command of space on a stage consisting of only a chair and a mic stand.

She is tweaking a "work in progress" at the syllabic level; but look beyond the professional dazzle to see a brilliantly paced, complex story that draws on gay Catholic Cuban-American identity (why isn't Gay capitalized?) to explore complex relationships that flash backward and forward across genders, latitudes, and generations.

Titled "The Spanking Machine," the bit uses a childhood friend as a humorous adult foil, but there's a point, accompanied by the sound of "so many locks in those New York apartments." This show is just like a perfect grownup spanking: all joy, with just a little bit of sting.

See it Friday at 6pm and Saturday at 7:30pm at the Theater at Side Street Studio Arts.

Cyrano-a-Go-Go at Elgin Fringe Festival

Forget about the nose ... Cyrano de Bergerac is the classic embodiment of a surrogate voice and unrequited love. By this definition he is essentially the archetype for all actors.

In this one-man show, Brad McEntire uses the landmark play as a device for sharing personal stories, history and commentary — combinations of purported fact, impressions and opinions that combine, as art always does, to deliver truth.

Moving in and out of different discourse worlds like distinct scenes in a play, McEntire alternately recites from the original 1897 Edmond Rostand play, relates anecdotes and even comments on the piece he is presenting. One message is "We're all just story tellers." Another is that poetry and warfare are just two separate mediums for declaring love, loyalty and freedom.

Complete with a printed study guide, it's a 70-minute think piece that deserves your attention. See McEntire as Cyrano Friday at 9pm, Saturday at 10:30pm and Sunday 4:30pm at the Theater at Side Street Studio Arts.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

This "Blonde" is Gold

With a sorority, a salon, a murder trial, #meToo, two dogs, two proposals and a massive Irish line dance, the story is almost too big for one night. But it was told in dazzling fashion by Fremont Street Theater Company as Legally Blonde, The Musical opened Friday at Cutting Hall in Palatine.

Based on a character from an original novel made famous by the 2001 film, Legally Blonde follows the journey of Elle Woods, a Delta Nu from Malibu, who evolves into a scholar and an unlikely legal genius.

It's a great leading role for Sarah Inendino (herself a doctoral student and music educator) in which to portray such a powerful combination of fashion, femininity and intelligence. She was fearless as Elle, tackling the lioness's share of singing, dancing and acting through numerous costume changes.

But the talent ran deep in this cast. In huge ensemble numbers with more than 20 people on stage, every artist was performing fully and consciously from head to toe. There were no mezzo-forte moments on this night: just a fortissimo fire hose of music and movement, electrified by outstanding costumes, lighting and set designs.

With vocal mics optimized for straight dialog the sung lyrics were hard to follow at times, but even if you don't already know this contemporary classic story you'll be blinded by the sheer spectacle of beauty and professionalism in this show.

Our favorite standout performance was by Jessica Means as Paulette, a salon stylist with high heels and a Boston accent who outperformed all the other tech and talent in the hall with bold and melodious solo lines and endearing comedic flair.

(The men in the show weren't bad either.)

Powered by a cast and crew numbering into the sixties — plus an 11-piece live orchestra — it's an astonishing production by Director Madeline Franklin, whose vision for this audacious, nonstop musical juggernaut seemed to come together flawlessly in front of a sold-out audience.

Tickets are still available for its second weekend, but act quickly because only three performances remain, September 13 and 14th at 7:30pm and September 15th at 3:00pm. Go to or

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Goodly Creatures Premieres "Nevermore" at Elgin Art Showcase

The word "nevermore" calls to mind the one-word vocabulary of the Raven in Edgar Allan Poe's narrative poem of the same name. It's emblematic of Poe's life, which is best known for its endings rather than its beginnings.

In "Nevermore," the original theatrical adapation of several of Poe's poems, the cast of Goodly Creatures portrays a gang of outsiders with rough exteriors that conceal their complicated consciences. The two act play was written and directed by Katrina Syrris, Founder and Artistic Director of Goodly Creatures, who also appears in a minor role.

The floor of the Elgin Art Showcase is set up in borderless vignettes where characters transition in and out like the persons in a dream. Their relationships are gradually exposed through monologues that borrow the direct text of Poe's poetry, including "The Raven" and many lesser-known works.

The characters are constantly self-medicating as they share their fears, grief, and gothic fantasies in period verse, which adds to the illusory quality of the sixteen short scenes which are emotionally and sometimes physically raw.

A few syllables get lost in the crying, whispering or drunken mumblings, but the key storytelling is in the action and excellent costumes and set. Although Poe had a (somewhat undeserved) reputation as a sullen or angry drunk or even a madman, he loved puzzles and hoaxes, and the cast injects glimpses of good humor that provide welcome relief from the literary syntax and heavy imagery.

And like Poe's life, "Nevermore" can also be seen as a sequence of endings, daring us to wonder what may come next. At times, you'll experience Poe-esque confusion and intrigue at what you're seeing and hearing, but let your imagination supply some of the material for this fable, just as his own characters did.

And yes, even intoxicated people can say some pretty amazing things. Check out "Nevermore" through August 18th, with showtimes at 8pm Thursday through Saturdays, and 2pm Sundays at the Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division Street in downtown Elgin. Advance tickets are $15 ($12 seniors/students), available at

Monday, June 17, 2019

Woodstock's Town Square Players: More Than "A Few Good Men"

An organization that relies on command and control in order to function is supposed to be free from drama. Aaron Sorkin's 1989 play A Few Good Men proves that drama can't be avoided within a closed society where men are trained both to cooperate and to fight.

In their last production before merging with Woodstock Musical Theatre Company, the Town Square Players casted 22 actors into nearly 30 roles to perform this powerful two act play Saturday at the Woodstock Opera House. Beginning next season, the two companies will combine to become Theatre 121.

The army of actors displayed military precision in their crisp movements, timing, entrances and scene transitions, but they were not a machine without a soul.

In crucial scenes, Jamie Ewing (Jessep), Derek Hyrkas (Kendrick) and Chris Griffin (Markinson) skillfully revealed the humanity of their characters with body language and accent, even in moments of half-shouted Marine-speak.

Anthony Walker (Dawson) and Nate Kirk (Downey) argued the value of individuality within a unit by portraying distinct characters whose loyalty is a choice based on emotions. It was part of a complex picture of Marine Corps life where standing perfectly still alternates with extreme physical exertion.

Adding to the authenticity of every well-cast role was superb costuming, haircuts and just the right amount of prop and set design.

Subdividing the space of a single stage into multiple storytelling zones is a signature style of director Madeline Franklin's creative vision. Her layering of time and space with foreground and background action, cued by lighting, raises the art to a level beyond what can be noted in a script.

In a leading role made famous by Tom Cruise, Trevor Wilson brought Navy lawyer Daniel Kaffee to life with endearing smugness that gave way to sincerity and conscience; he delivered a clear counterpoint to the rigidity of military society.

Tania Joy brightened every scene with a nuanced performance as Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway, who was never entirely predictable. Her chemistry with Wilson was like a keg of gunpowder: dangerous if it were to explode.

Visiting the beautifully restored Woodstock Opera House is worth the trip, with its art gallery and historic interpretations, but seeing live theatre as it's meant to be seen makes the experience truly authentic.

A Few Good Men continues through June 30th, with shows at 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 2pm Sundays. For tickets, go to or call the box office at (815) 338-5300.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Elgin Master Chorale and Handel's "Dixit Dominus"

The Blizzard Theatre at the ECC Arts Center looked like a west coast recording studio Sunday as the Elgin Master Chorale Children's Chorus took the stage in front of an array of high end microphones.

The Chorus in matching dress performed a four song set (entirely memorized) with unisons, part singing and confident solos. Though the mics picked up a bit too much noise, the 27 voices sounded full and clear through impressive changes in tempo and key, accompanied by piano and cello.

Conductor Matthew Bishop combined material from various genres, wisely including movie music which connects choral practice to contemporary culture. An excellent spokesman and cheerleader, Bishop described the group's aim to become the region's preeminent youth singing program, comparable to the highly respected Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra.

The accomplished singers of the Elgin Master Chorale (EMC) filled the risers next, behind the 24-piece Bella Voce Sinfonia, to sing the baroque aria Jesu Meines Lebens Leben (ca. 1675) by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707). Except for one clear, beautiful passage in the tenors, it served best as a prelude for the more thoroughly prepared masterpiece that followed.

Best known for Messiah (1741) and other works from his later career in England, Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759) produced hundreds of compositions of every kind over a period of more than fifty years. Born German and died an Englishman, he was strongly influenced by Italian composers and wrote music with Latin texts for Roman Catholic worship.

Among the earliest of his large scale works was the eight-part Psalm setting Dixit Dominus (1707), scored for SSATB chorus, string orchestra and continuo. The Sinfonia gave a precise orchestral introduction to the nearly 40-minute piece by 22-year-old Handel, filled with glimpses of melody and rhythmic figures that would distinguish his musical voice for generations.

The choir's tone and Latin diction were transmitted nicely through the hall, but also exposed the challenges of baroque counterpoint which become exaggerated with an ensemble more than double the size of any choir from the original period.

In homophonic sections, the singers blended beautifully, favoring the upper voices and sounding especially divine in softer moments.

Five stalwart soloists handled the inner movements of the piece, managing long and complex melodies on a single vowel with fine breath control, even in passages where young Handel wrote dangerously low or high in the range. Sopranos Hannah de Priest and Henriët Fourie displayed sparkling technique and meshed nicely as a duet in part seven. Mezzo soprano Anna VanDeKerchove and tenor Matthew Dean tackled complex melismas with excellent intonation over quirky Renaissance accidentals.

Year after year, EMC Music Director Andrew Lewis gathers and develops an astonishing amount of talent to take on serious music by important composers in a professionalistic way. These concerts are a rare privilege to experience, and equally amazing is the opportunity to participate in this music making as a singer, board member or volunteer.

Lewis' dedicated artistic leadership and care for this choir's legacy as well as its future is an asset of which Elgin can justifiably boast. If the city continues to evolve into a center for the arts, it is thanks to the critical mass formed by the Elgin Master Chorale and the other superb organizations that make Elgin their home.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Independent Players present a Classic Comedy

In a play about the theatre, in which actors play the roles of actors and other theatrical personnel, the possibilities for a multi-layered plot are intriguing. Where Noel Coward's Present Laughter (1939) is light on plot, it's heavy on characterizations, to which good actors will bring the best of their craft.

Directed by Don Haefliger, the Independent Players' cast of eleven seized the opportunity on opening night Friday at the Elgin Art Showcase.

In a role which Coward created for himself, Gabor Mark plays Gary Essendine, a temperamental and self-indulgent actor turned 41. Mark captures the exaggerations and peccadilloes of a spoiled British Thespian in his brilliant caricature, flinging out lines like "My entire life is one long torment, and no one remotely cares!"

Standing out among the supporting cast was Madeline Franklin as the vivacious Joanna, a wife and mistress within Gary's inner circle. Her stage presence and delivery commanded attention in every scene she shared with the other quirky and pretentious characters.

Coward's classic script is witty and downright hilarious at times, but still richly detailed with self-conscious lines like "I'm always acting," and "Don't be affected, Gary," and "Stop being theatrical!" All of these characters — not just the actors — are profound liars in their own way, and even the hired help injects drama into the story.

But this is really an actor's play. The more experienced players' quality of entrances, body language, and diction was superb, showing just the right restraint in this barely civilized farce. Some of the accents were better than others, but they were all successful, even communicating region and social class which, along with excellent costumes, created vivid personalities.

The run time is more than two hours (with an intermission), but you won't be checking your watch with all this colorful and comedic melodrama happening just a few feet away. See it for yourself, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm through March 16th at the Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division Street. For tickets and more information, go to

Saturday, February 9, 2019

At Grandmother's House with Elgin Theatre Company

Just like Italian food, Over the River and Through the Woods is savory and easy to swallow. The two-act play written by Joseph DiPietro and performed by the Elgin Theatre Company opened Friday night at the Elgin Art Showcase in downtown Elgin.

The grandparent-grandchild relationship is the lens through which this plays looks at life's priorities. For the older generation, it's faith, family and food. "Tengo familia" ("I have a family") is the cherished tenet of two sets of grandparents, whose grandson's career ambitions are threatening to take him thousands of miles away.

Though the thermostat is always set too high in Grandma's house, the characters are comfortable — with themselves and each other — and the situations seem familiar. The cast seasoned their portrayals of Italian-Americans from New Jersey with subtle accents, manners and costume to make them very believable and likeable.

Tom Ochociniski and Linda Sak play Frank and Aida Gianelli, whose kitchen is always open and table always has room for one more. Richard Johnson plays Nunzio Cristano and Arlene Arnone plays Emma, who tries to fix her grandson up with a nice local girl Caitlin, played by Jess Smith. The scenes flow like a sketch comedy with plenty of laughs.

Grandson Nick Cristano, played by Matt Hellyer, is at the center of the plot tension. On one side, he's the reason for his grandparents' fear of detachment; on the other side, he's the object of Caitlin's fear of attachment.

This family's style is more words than action, and the cast wasted no time delivering the next line. True to her character, not even a broken wrist could stop Arnone as Emma from talking with her hands.

With highly effective lighting and sound by Andrew Murschel and excellent casting and coaching by Director Richard Pahl, this production was like a fine lasagna: a little cheesy, just enough meat, and definitely warm and satisfying.

Enjoy a little theatrical comfort food! Over the River and Through the Woods runs for three weekends, through February 24th. Shows are at 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays and 2pm on Sundays. For tickets and complete information, go to or call (847) 741-0532.