Chicago Theater Review: HOLIDAZE (Step Up Productions at the Athenaeum Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on December 4, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

BURNING THE YULE LOG AT BOTH ENDS

Striking a comfortable balance between sticky and sentimental, schmaltz and cynicism, five short plays by as many Chicago writers (and directed by another skilled quintet) combine to create the rightly named HoliDaze. Happily, none of these furtive glimpses of the holiday season’s well-chronicled underside, most set on Christmas Eve, outstays its welcome. A few actually suggest new ways to look at a very old subject.

Andy Luther and Amanda Powell in The Space Behind Your Heart by Steve Simoncic, directed by Vincent Teninty, part of Step Up Productions’ HoliDaze.

However half-baked and tentative, the tenderest offering is Steve Simoncic’s “The Space Behind Your Heart,” sweetly staged by Vincent Teninty. Two insecure fortysomethings (Andy Luther and Amanda Dahl Powell) on a computer-generated rendezvous (from the Christian Mingle service) endure, then enjoy an awkward first date. Of course, these self-deprecating love-seekers aren’t who they pretend to be; but when they begin to reveal and not conceal, the results, however inconclusive, beat out the lies. If ever a scene depicted the virtues of “small talk,” it’s this winner.

Nadirah Bost and Jennifer Glasse in For My Brothers Whenever I May Find Them by Nambi E. Kelley, directed by Daniel Bryant, part of Step Up Productions’ HoliDaze.

Equal in its sweet sap as staged by Daniel Bryant, Nambi B. Kelley’s “For My Brothers Whenever I May Find Them” depicts the bitter first Christmas after a tough-loving, bi-polar mother’s 2008 passing–just when Obama made blacks feel beautiful. Ministering to a seemingly abandoned family (Jennifer Glasse, Eric Lynch and David Goodloe) as she offers gifts from the grave, Nadirah Bost is charming as a very friendly ghost with the gift of gab. This mother manages more healing posthumously than she did in life.

Gina Taliaferro, Greg Geffrard and Jake Carr in And The Snow Came Down by Tate Geborkoff, directed by Tara Branham, part of Step Up Productions’ HoliDaze.

More tart than tender in Tara Branham’s treatment, “And The Snow Came Down,” is Tate Geborkoff’s bitchy and catty depiction of two gay lovers (Jake Carr and Greg Geffrard) and a disapproving mother-in-law who must be “held at bay” but eventually rises to the occasion. Champagne gets thrown along with insults. It’s wishful thinking if this Noel is a warning or a blessing.

Connor McNamara and Elizabeth Antonucci in The Intruder by Joshua Rollins, directed by Laura Hooper, part of Step Up Productions’ HoliDaze.

Even more chaotic and unresolved, “The Intruder” depicts a newlywed couple (Connor McNamara and Elizabeth Antonucci) forced to spend their first Christmas together when all flights are canceled. They share the celebration with a very destructive squirrel and, well, that’s all she wrote. Or he, Joshua Rollins, in a suitably crazed staging by Laura Hooper.

Eric Lynch and Ashley Neal in Christmas is Made for Fools by Lisa Dillman, directed by Adrianne Cury, part of Step Up Productions’ HoliDaze.

Finally, “Christmas Is Made for Fools” is a quasi-charmer staged with suppleness by Adrianne Cury. Lisa Dillman’s reliable talespinning has storyteller Nick Polus chronicle the improbable romance between a Christmas-hating jester and the Muse-like palace wench who inspires him to dance up a Christmas Eve frolic before the King. This piece ends the evening with a properly festive romp.

The theater, which has a strong social mission, will collect donations and non-perishable goods for Lakeview Pantry at each performance. Appropriately for the occasion, they’re also raising contributions to Linden Oaks at Edward Hospital which treats victims of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

photos by Michael Brosilow

HoliDaze
Step Up Productions
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave.
scheduled to end on December 22, 2013
for tickets, call (773) 935-6875 or visit www.athenaeumtheatre.org
for more info, visit www.stepupproductions.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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