Tag Archives: Theatre Review

Theater Ninjas’ [sic]: Minding Our Mistakes

Theater Ninjas' production of [sic] is at the 78th Street Studios through March 15

Theater Ninjas’ production of [sic] is at the 78th Street Studios through March 15

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to take in two very different, but good shows. We first saw The Great Lakes’ Deathtrap on Saturday, a polished, entertaining comic thriller (you can read my recap here). Then on Monday, Scott and I saw Theater Ninjas’ [sic].

Melissa James Gibson’s verbose, frenetic [sic] focuses on three neighbors, their mistakes, and their friendship of convenience.

Babette is trying – unsuccessfully – to pitch a book about history-changing temper tantrums. Theo is struggling to compose a theme song for the Thrill-o-Rama rollercoaster. And Frank is stumbling over his words as he dreams of becoming a professional auctioneer.

While they’re each counting pennies and hitting the wall with their creative pursuits, they’re making mistakes in their personal lives. Drunken hookups, vanished wives, jealousies over an ex-boyfriend who’s moved on.

[sic] shows the three repeatedly spilling out of their apartments and into the hallway with their ups, downs, arguments, and flirtations, before slamming a door and retreating into their personal prisons.

It was exhilarating and a little emotionally exhausting.

Left to right:  Actors Ryan Lucas, Rachel Lee Kolis and Gabriel Riazi, as Theo, Babette and Frank in [sic]

Left to right: Actors Ryan Lucas, Rachel Lee Kolis and Gabriel Riazi, as Theo, Babette and Frank in [sic]

Watching [sic] brought back vivid memories of my early twenties in Philly. Working in the marketing and sales department of a theatre during the day, then backstage on a show at night to help pay my bills, and volunteering for a startup theatre company whenever I could squeeze in a few moments.

There was little sleep, but who needed it when you were fueled by putting order to the chaos and a couple of martinis.

Although I may not have been a full-blown trainwreck at the time, I would have qualified at least as a fender bender trying to figure out what I wanted and making many mistakes.

Looking back, was it exhausting? Yes. But was it also an incredibly fun and invaluable experience? Definitely. And many good stories resulted from that time.

Which is why I loved [sic]. It made me recall working back-to-back shows on Sundays, punctuated by a riotous weekly dinner with the rest of the crew and cast. Or having a cigarette with my roommate on our apartment building’s front stoop, hoping we’d run into our neighbor Akbar, a local artist and chef who always had something interesting to say.

Director Pandora Robertson pondered in [sic]’s playbill “Why do we end up with the friends that we have? Why do some friendships last and others fade instantly? Do we really choose our friends?”

We don’t really have that much control as the characters in [sic] demonstrate. They’re brought together because they all knew the same mutual “friend,” someone we don’t meet, but hear a lot about from Babette, Theo, and Frank.

Much of [sic] rotates around the characters' mistakes and their habit of pointing out the others' in defense of their own

Much of [sic] rotates around the characters’ mistakes and their habit of pointing out the others’ in defense of their own

At multiple points during the show, each character uses scathing words to hurt the others. Regardless, though, they’re there together at the end to console, tease, and probably hurt again. It’s raw, poetic, and, even at it’s most ridiculous, realistic.  

[sic]’s script runs at a manic pace, focused on the cacophony of the city and the at-times overly clever language of its inhabitants. I found myself having problems keeping up on occasion and missing a line here or there. However, the actors playing Babette (Rachel Lee Kolis), Theo (Ryan Lucas), and Frank (Gabriel Riazi) never waned in energy and thrust our focus from each tumultuous moment to the next.

Kolis, in particular, captured my attention and never let go. Her expressions and body language were always in sync with Babette’s shifting moods and whirlwind outbursts. Whether she was seeking a few pennies or support for her book (neither of which she got from anyone but Theo), her desperation shot straight to my heart.

Theo tortures himself in his cramped apartment while Babette and Frank listen

Theo bangs out a not-very-thrilling Thrill-o-Rama composition while Babette and Frank listen outside his cramped apartment

The highlight of every Theater Ninja show is seeing how they use a performance space, whether it’s the atrium at the Cleveland Museum of Art or a common area between a few galleries in the 78th Street Studios.

In the same space where Theater Ninjas’ first run of Excavation had audience members wandering between multiple vignettes, set designer Val Kozlenko has built out [sic]’s intimate, messy apartments.

Even though each apartment is the size of a broom closet, it fully realizes the inhabitant’s personality and problems. I loved how each space was built at a slant, melding into the 78th Street Studios’ walls and support columns, creating a refuge where the characters could continue to torture themselves in private. 

[sic] will be at the 78th Street Studios through March 15 with shows on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday at 8pm. Tickets range between $15 and $20. Purchase them at https://squareup.com/market/theater-ninjas

Disclosure: I was invited to attend [sic] with a guest in exchange for sharing my opinions of the production. The opinions here are 100% my own.

Review: Theater Ninjas’ nomadic Black Cat Lost

I was invited to attend Theater Ninjas' Black Cat Lost to share my opinions

Disclosure: I was invited to attend Theater Ninjas’ Black Cat Lost to share my opinions

The jisei, or death poem, is a tradition among zen monks and haiku poets – short poems written moments before death. Some are poignant, others surprisingly amusing. All are candid insights into the author’s last thoughts as death approached, regardless of whether or not they welcomed it.

As we walked into the Waterloo Arts gallery for Theater Ninjas’ Black Cat Lost, Obie Award-winner Erin Courtney’s play about death and our personal grappling with it, there was a table of colored paper and white pencils. We were each asked to write our death poem.

After last spring’s The Excavation, the one thing I’ve come to expect when attending a Theater Ninjas show is to be open to the experience. In their show choices and execution, the company, led by Black Cat Lost‘s director Jeremy Paul, is about taking risks. So when the blank cards were staring us in the face, we thought “why not?”

A good reminder for a Theater Ninjas show

A good reminder for a Theater Ninjas show

Scott and I each penned our poems privately and made our way to our seats. Sitting down in one of the church pews, I took in the sparse space around us. Sparse but calming. I liked how they framed the empty art studio with a couple of wood-and-paper screens up stage and a window curtain or small vanity mirror here and there. It wasn’t overwhelming – an open space that was clearly designed to allow for a lot of fluid movement. Zen-like.

It managed to lure me into a calm that wouldn’t last for long. Within the first ten minutes of Theatre Ninjas’ performance, I was suckerpunched.

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Great Lakes Theater’s Magnificent, Macabre Sweeney Todd

UPDATE (10/10): In all my excitement for Sweeney Todd, I forgot to share a social media discount with you. Use code PR6 when purchasing tickets and save $10 off each A Level ticket you purchase. (Offer not valid retroactively, in conjunction with other offers or on student priced tickets.)

“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd. / His skin was pale and his eye was odd. / He shaved the faces of gentlemen / Who never thereafter were heard of again. / He trod a path that few have trod. / Did Sweeney Todd. / The demon barber of Fleet Street.”

Tom Ford in Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street disposing of one of his victims. All photos in this post by Roger Mastroianni, courtesy of Great Lakes Theater

Tom Ford in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street disposing of one of his victims. All photos in this post by Roger Mastroianni, courtesy of Great Lakes Theater

In Stephen Sondheim’s macabre musical Sweeney Todd, you need an actor capable of capturing a man broken by injustice and tragedy, reshaped into a monster obsessed only with avenging his family.

Great Lakes Theater’s Sweeney Todd, running through Nov. 2 at PlayhouseSquare’s Hanna Theatre, has found that in actor Tom Ford.

An 8-season veteran of Great Lakes Theater, Ford brings a manic frenzy to Todd. With a theatricality similar to classic horror films, he’s a convincing madman bent on punishing the lecherous judge who wronged him, even if that means hurting others along the way.

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