Chicago Theater Review: SEASON ON THE LINE (The House Theatre of Chicago at Chopin Theatre)

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by Erika Mikkalo on September 24, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

STOREFRONT SHENANIGANS

(Background L to R) Ty Olwin as The Narrator, with Maggie Kettering and Marika Mashburn in SEASON ON THE LINE at The House Theatre of Chicago. Photo by Michael Brosilow.Have you ever heard of Bad Settlement Theatre Company? Well, don’t worry about it if you haven’t. Up until the opening of House Theatre’s production of Season on the Line, this off-off-off-Broadway theater company only existed in the imagination of playwright Shawn Pfautsch, whose new work celebrates the theater as it deconstructs it. If you look at Bad Settlement’s web site (created for this show with astounding authenticity), you will see that Moby Dick is one of three plays they are producing this season. Pfautsch artfully transposes this famous fish tale via Bad Settlement into an über-Brechtian delight (as Pfautsch’s invented theater critic Mark Williamson might pen) as we watch production meeting, rehearsal, performance, party, and closing. While English majors and those with theatrical experience may particularly relish the in-jokes and literary references that appear throughout, this show will no doubt entertain veteran and neophyte alike. Here’s hoping non-theater folk—who may watch theatrical allusions fly over their head—will get the same kick I did from watching this art-imitates-art experience.

Sean Sinitski with Ensemble in SEASON ON THE LINE at The House Theatre of Chicago. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Real-life designer Lee Keenan (set and lights) brings Bad Settlement’s home—the derelict pool room of a dilapidated hotel—to life in all its pathetic glory. The company’s Artistic Director Ben Adonna (Thomas J. Cox) accelerates from passionate dedication to obsessive psychosis as he pursues his own White Whale: the approval of the aforementioned critic, played with a winning combination of drollness and pomposity by Sean Sinitski. Ty Olwin is pitch-perfect as the ingénue narrator/Ishmael, a first-time assistant stage manager gaining his sea legs.

Thomas J Cox, Maggie Kettering, Tiffany Yvonne Cox, Ty Olwin, Shane Keynon in SEASON ON THE LINE at The House Theatre of Chicago. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Under Jess McLeod’s direction, the winning cast’s vibrant characters turn on a dime through a rapid-fire chain of scene changes. Christopher M. Walsh appears as the enigmatic set builder and “whaling consultant” from the Azores; Maggie Kittering is frighteningly accurate as the tightly-wound stage manager; and Abu Ansari plays a Ugandan actor (Muwangi Ndwaddewazibwa) who is among the most professional of the Bad Settlement cast.

Marika Mashburn, Allison Latta, Thomas J Cox, Andy Lutz, Abu Ansari, Danny Bernardo, Marvin Quijada, Ty Olwin in SEASON ON THE LINE at The House Theatre of Chicago. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

The script is a particular star, providing plenty of comic turns: A sound designer is told to go from sea shanties to Mahler, and a profoundly annoying guru asserts that Moby Dick is a sacred text of the Bahá’i faith. The political provocation and perpetual penury of independent theater appear in full force: The same set is to be used for Bad Settlement’s entire season, which begins with Gatsby (no doubt a nod to Gatz, Elevator Repair Service’s staged reading of the novel in its entirety); and all the props for Balm in Gilead are dumpster-dived. The innocent Narrator gets one of the biggest laughs of the evening when he innocently asks, “You don’t get to paid to act?”

Tiffany Yvonne Cox with ensemble in SEASON ON THE LINE at The House Theatre of Chicago. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

In a conversation with the narrator, the critic explains that there are three kinds of theatrical performances: The infrequent utterly and irredeemably bad; the frequent middling shows that he has to decide whether to praise or condemn; and the rare great. I can state with confidence that Season on the Line is one of the great.

Shane Kenyon and Thomas J Cox in SEASON ON THE LINE at The House Theatre of Chicago. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

photos by Michael Brosilow

Thomas J. Cox and Maggie Kettering in SEASON ON THE LINE at The House Theatre of Chicago. Photo by Michael Brosilow.Season on the Line
The House Theatre of Chicago
Chopin Theatre Upstairs Theatre
1543 W. Division St.
Thurs – Sat at 7:30; Sun and Mon at 7:00
scheduled to end on October 26, 2014
for tickets, call 773.769.3832
or visit www.thehousetheatre.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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