Saturday, June 30, 2018

Steel Beam Theatre Offers an Imaginative Take on Wilde

By Richard Pahl

Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, was first performed in London in 1895 and has been continually produced for 123 years. Many revivals in the first decades of the 20th century treated its setting, “the present”, as the current year. It was not until the 1920s that the tradition of 1890s costumes was established. Thus it is not a stretch that Steel Beam Theatre has chosen to take a step back and set its streamlined revisal in the Sixties. They have subtitled this reimagining as A Trivial Comedy for Groovy People.

When the curtains open, the audience encounters psychedelic music, dayglo colors, flared pants and brilliant eye shadow. Humorous dance sequences created by Jennifer Reeves-Wilson set the scenes and amp up the laughs. Clever costumes chosen by Marge Uhlarik-Boller feature bright colors, bold silhouettes and whimsical details. Director Sean Hargadon peppers the performance with amusing stage business and supervises the entire affair with an appropriate sense of silliness.

Wilde is famous for his dialogue and use of language. This oft-quoted play is full of epigrams, paradoxes, witticisms, quips, bons-mots, epigrams and repartee. It is satirical and farcical. Steel Beam's top notch cast skillfully handles the sophisticated, rapid fire language. In this production lovers of the English language will be overjoyed to find that the text is beautifully articulated .

The performances are strong throughout. Richard Isemonger is the fashionable, posturing, often manic but always entertaining Algernon. Sumeet Chhabra appears as two unflappable manservants. Josh Radde is the suave but often anxious Jack. Julie Bayer as strong-willed Gwendolen seems to be a match for her formidable mother. In one of the most famous roles in English dramatic literature, Sarafina Vecchio takes a distinctive turn as Lady Bracknell. Maddy Kelly is the youthful but determined Cecily. Diminutive Jean Austin is a flirtatious spinster governess and is hilariously paired with the hulking Scott Purdy as scholarly Dr. Chasuble.

Kudos to Steel Beam for its fresh, imaginative take on a comedy classic.

Tickets are available at

Richard Pahl is an actor, director, and writer, who has worked in professional, community, and college theater for close to 40 years. He has traveled the country plying his trade at various regional theaters. He was the creator of both Playwrights' Advocate and Page To Stage - incubators for new play production, where local and regional plays were commissioned and simply staged in front of live audiences, providing critical feedback for the playwrights. Pahl also served proudly on the Elgin Cultural Arts Commission from 2007-2014. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

EFF 2017 Review Roundup 9/17/17

Independent Players – The Interview by Jean-Claude Van Itallie
Independent Players gets their 1960s absurd stylings on again at this year’s Elgin Fringe. An intricate piece of theater depicting various states of being. It plays like a fever dream, a day in the life of sorts, where we keep on moving forward through all the chaos, joy and frustration. It is brilliantly executed by a dedicated ensemble of eight actors.


Jeremy Schaefer – Sportsball
Schaefer returns to the same venue where he performed last year – a highlight of the fringe. This time, he’s talking about sports, breaking down why we follow our favorite teams, and what it means to be a fan. Schaefer lays out his argument about his feelings about sports and his lack of interest as a child. Then he shares with us his experiment to find out what this fandom is all about and at the end of his tale reveals a new perspective he didn’t see coming. You won’t find a more likeable performer who could probably talk about cutting the lawn and make it sound interesting and funny.


Jeffrey Roberts - The Gay Uncle Explains it All to You
Jeffrey Roberts' autobiographical monologue is performed in a space crammed full of his brightly colored illustrations (on found surfaces such as newspapers, shopping bags and butcher paper) of a starry array of gay icons. A hoarder of pop culture, everyone's gay uncle delivers what seem to be messy stream-of-consciousness reminiscences about the pop culture and musical stars that appealed to a gay child..  But this straight-faced jokester also talks bravely about the gay liberation movement, the AIDS epidemic, and the pain of grieving the unstoppable, and too often unacknowledged, loss of loved ones. Roberts' imposing physical appearance belies his sentimental, resilient, optimistic nature and the performance concludes with a singalong leaving everyone feeling just a little bit fabulous.
-Richard Pahl

Judah Leblang - One Man's Journey Through the Middle Ages
Leblang's autobiographical, contemplative monologue is the story of a lonely, gay man who realizes he is closer to the end of his life than the beginning. In episodic fashion he discusses his dreams and regrets, unending search for love, belated coming out, crippling anxiety attacks, the genesis of his performance career and fear of sucking, and his encroaching infirmities. With writerly detail worthy of NPR-like coverage, Leblang pays tribute to the beloved housekeeper and deaf uncle to whom he feels most strongly connected. Although he has not yet been able to make all the changes suggested by the self-knowledge gained from 20 years of therapy, Leblang remains hopeful and continues to live the examined life.
 -Richard Pahl

Jeremy Schaefer – Sportsball
In this broadly comic, autobiographical monologue Jeremy Schaefer enthusiastically recounts his early antipathy for sports and, after the Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series win, carefully examines the mysteries of sports fandom in a scientific manner.
-Richard Pahl

Randy Ross - The Chronic Single' s Handbook
Expert storytelling weaves throughout this multicontinent journey about a single man looking for a partner.  Well told and engaging however diminished by a couple of unnecessary graphically recalled encounters.  Not for children.

Luis Carreon – Strange Things Are Happening
Luis is a highly skilled performer who does a variety of close up, sleight of hand,  mind reading, and comedy.  A well paced show from a very engaging artist had the audience in his hands....
Memoriam Development  - Oh my Gods
A well written and performed look into human belief systems held at the monthly Deity roster meeting.  This humorous and irreverent peice explores and challenges why we believe what we believe.  With God, Zeus, Mother Earth, and several other gods debating the finer points of what and how humans came to understand and interpret what's been put into their lives with regard to common religious systems.  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

EFF 2017 Review Roundup 9-16-17 - Part 2

EFF 2017 Review Roundup - Part 2

The Minnesota SkyVault Theatre Company presents "Skirmish of Wit: Your Imaginary Forces"
at First United Methodist Church

This was my first show on Saturday and honestly I was curious about what to expect. A cast of seven with a collection of instruments on and old proscenium stage makes up the set. That's it. No frills. Nothing fancy. Just actors and an audience. What ensued for the net 45 minutes was the most delightful, heartfelt, and charming retelling of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" I have ever seen. Now I know what you're thinking: "Please not another Shakespeare adaptation." But this one is different. With folksy/jazz inspired songs, played live and interspersed with contemporary and classical dialogue, you get to see this story brought refreshingly to life by a young cast that plays well beyond its years. This performance was funny, farcical, and could have kept going like that until the end, but the cast did an about face that completely changed the atmosphere in the theater. And that is why we go to shows. And that is why live theater can be the best way to communicate with your fellow human beings. Go see this show before they head back to Minnesota. The kids are alright. And these kids can play. Next show: Sun. 1:30pm.        

SPH for Elgin Walkabout

The Gay Uncle Time presents 'The Gay Uncle Explains it All to You'
at Side Street Studio Arts Theater

We are golden and we are made of stardust. So says Jeffrey Robert in his one-man show that takes on a journey about being a gay man in the 60s, 70s and 80s. With lively illustrations peppered with Robert's observations and tenderness, you get a picture of the joys and challenges he faced along with many other during that time. But this isn't a sad story. It is one that reminds you to take hold of your life and make it all work no matter how messy it can get. Or, as Robert's said at the end of his show: "It's important to know these stories. I look up in the sky. I see the stars. Take a trip to never-land. We are all stardust and we must love each other." Next show: Sun. 3pm.

SPH for Elgin Walkabout

Kelly Bolton presents "As Good As Necessary"
at Side Studio Arts Theater

Kelly Bolton returns to the Elgin Fringe and brings a mostly new set of material to share with the audience. Never short of energy or the ability to engage an audience, Bolton frames her latest show as a one those 1950s styled educational videos filled with observations about what it means to be single, of a certain age, and living in the city. But before you start thinking this is some sad confessional performance, be sure to get ready for the wild ride that Bolton takes you on as she introduces a slew of characters that will have you rolling in your seat and laughing out loud. Next show: Sun. 4:30pm.

SPH for Elgin Walkabout

Howard Petrick presents "Fight for 52 cents" 
At Elgin Public House 

When the past becomes the present is makes sense to listen. Howard Petrick shares an intimate story about union organizer and social leader V.R. Dunne back during a time when joining a union sometimes meant enduring physical violence or even the loss of your life. Petrick tells this story simply almost like a family member conjuring up memories from a much different time in American life. He addresses his audience directly without frills allowing truth to power. What surprises you as the story is told is how some things seem to never change in our society and how we must all fight for what is right no matter the cost.

SPH for Elgin Walkabout

Party Cops with Kelly Bolton and Vicki Kunz
at Side Studio Arts Theater

You need to hydrate. And that means beer - lots of it. This show is a series of sketches and scenes that keeps the fun up front and doesn't stop. These two have a nice chemistry that played well the night I saw. Look forward to the Train Sketch.

- SPH for Elgin Walkabout