Chicago Theater Review: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (The Hypocrites at the Chopin Theatre)

by Paul Kubicki on August 27, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


Regretfully, I must admit I’m not familiar with the theatre company The Hypocrites, but have heard that they often use the basement of the Chopin Theatre for their performances.  I certainly know Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, and peripherally perused the Hypocrites’ press release to find that this was a staging of the somber tale and remember seeing something about drag performance.  But when we think Poe, we think dark, eerie, suspenseful, oppressively melancholy—the list of not-so-happy adjectives goes on. The Hypocrites turn Poe’s story on its head, capitalizing not only on the terror that permeates his work, but also on the unintentional comic absurdity throughout his piece. The result is a startlingly fun jab at Poe—but only if you’re into gothy, gorey camp.

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema review of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER - Hypocrites at Chopin in ChicagoNow, it’s true, we don’t often hear comedy and Poe in the same sentence. His work is, in general, rather sobering. This production isn’t. Those looking for a spine-chilling thrill will still get some of what they signed up for, but not without laughing at Poe’s hysterically stylized characters, several incredible drag performances, and a few Scooby-Doo-like chase scenes. Sean Graney, who directed and adapted the show for stage, explores how closely horror and humor are tied. Even in the most petrifying moments of the show, Graney finds a way to make us laugh. And each time a maid enters to serve a lemon, an unexpected bolt of lightning accompanies her, making even the most innocuous action of the play instill terror. At times, the quick-paced alternation between these two poles leave the audience somewhere in the middle, and frankly, a bit disconnected. But he’s right on target most of the time.

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema review of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER - Hypocrites at Chopin in ChicagoBut make no mistake: if Graney was attempting to reconstruct Poe’s work, he’d be way out of line. He makes it entirely his own, playing the gothic feel of the piece for laughs while robbing it of most of its integrity. In this respect, he’s short-changing the original work; but recreating it was never his intention. He pays remarkable tribute to Poe’s language, yet it leaves the adaptation feeling a bit too wordy for the stage.

A cast of three women supports Graney’s work, masterfully wading through the script and enriching it with physical comedy. The characters that they portray are (in drag) Roderick Usher, the oppressively melancholy bachelor who is the last remaining of his incredibly linear family tree; his female friend who was invited to stay with him as comfort; his quirky, illiterate maid; and his sister, who just can’t quite stay dead.  They play the roles interchangeably, switching characters with uncanny speed—I initially thought it was a cast of four, and was rather surprised when I glanced down at my program. Without exception, all three are excellent. Tien Doman stands out as she finds the most humor in each of the roles—though members Christine Stulik and Halena Kays are both certainly deserving of mention.

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema review of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER - Hypocrites at Chopin in Chicago

With remarkable production values, especially Joey Wade’s set, Rick Sim’s sound, and Jared Moore’s lighting, Usher has the potential to join the classic ranks of Young Frankenstein (the movie, not the atrocious musical). It falls short of that high-shot, but still winds up being a whole helluva lot of fun.

photos by Matthew Gregory Hollis

The Fall of the House of Usher
The Hypocrites at The Chopin Theatre
ends on Sept 23, 2012
for tickets, call 773.989.7352 or visit Hypocrites

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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