Directed by Jess McLeod
Produced by The House Theatre Company
At Chopin Theater
An insightful look at a misunderstood world
Season on the Line brings you deep into the world of struggling theater. A play within a play would be an understatement. A world where you rely so much on ticket sales that a certain review can make or break the theater. Now, this is not that review. My review will do nothing to harm such an interesting piece.
Season on the Line follows the Bad Settlement Theater company, a once prominent company in their community who in recent years have hit new lows in both ticket sales and subsequently production quality. A dilapidated, musty old Motel Theater with a budget stretched thinner than razor wire. The scene opens with the new kid, just known as The Narrator, telling the story of how he became the Assistant Stage Manager (ASM). The Narrator (played by the young and talented Ty Olwin) presents himself as our protagonist, but it almost seems that the protagonist isn’t any one individual, but the theater itself. He tells of how he took this job knowing nothing about theater. He had never even seen a play, and this crashing company gave him a crash course on why it’s one of the most interesting, rewarding, and depressing environments to work in. He meets his boss, Day Starr (the lovely Maggie Kettering), right before the first production meeting for their big end of season show, Moby Dick. He is thrust into a room with people shouting wildly. Working toward opening night of their…let’s just say creative re-imagining of The Great Gatsby directed by cast and crew member Elizabeth Fricke (played both humorously and obnoxiously by the very funny Marika Mashburn), they also focus on plans for their other shows for the season, and working out the budget issues.
The writer and director for Moby Dick, an exceedingly eccentric gentleman, is brought to life by Thomas J. Cox with a riveting display of depth and desperation in the midst of all these comedic moments. Ben Adonna (Cox) has a vision for his show. He has plans that go far beyond scheduling and budgetary issues. He is so desperate to achieve this goal that he will let the other shows suffer in the name of his own. Why is this so critical? Because the future of this theater relies almost solely on the review for Moby Dick, and the reviewer is an unforgiving man. A man who will give credit where credit is due, but he rarely feels that credit is due (Sternly played by Sean Sinitski). Adonna becomes obsessed with this man’s approval and starts to go mad. He brings in an old face, a young man named Amos (Shane Kenyon), who is universally displeasing to everyone else on the cast and crew. With Adonna and Amos getting harder and harder to work with and them finding less and less money in their budget, tensions run high. I wish I could explain this better, but it’s already really long and I don’t want to spoil anything interesting. A healthy mix of comedy and drama that will no doubt keep you intrigued.
I can’t help but show empathy for these people because I, myself, have been there. I’ve been thrust into these groups. I was in theater through much of high school and college and let me say that these people are weirdos from the outside, intimidating when you get in, and some of the most amazing people in the world when you stay. What this narrator goes through is, in my mind, a very accurate portrayal of what that environment looks like to someone from the outside. With the job progressively making more and more sense, by the end of the season this kid has all but mastered his craft. It’s hard not to sympathize with the struggles of this theater. There’s something to be said about doing something because you love it, but hating every minute of it. You forget why you love it, but you know that you’ll feel incomplete without it. That’s what I took away from the overall morale of the characters. They love their lives, but don’t know why. They’re happy but there’s always something wrong. Beautifully acted, no doubt about it.
It’s always a little bit difficult to explain the actual crew and set when you’re talking about a play within a play. The sets were pretty minimalist, which I’m always a big fan of. It forces the show to be good without having distracting elements they can rely on. You’re a lot more likely to notice something happening when there’s nothing else to focus on. A bar that rolls in and out in two pieces is the only real set piece other than folding tables, and the bar is well crafted. The background around this black box theater was that of a decrepit, dilapidated, and just all around forgotten swimming pool. As if it were empty and they sat at the bottom. Incredibly well crafted, very realistic looking even standing right up to it, but why? There’s little mention of it and it does little to affect the overall outcome of the story. I feel that despite how great it looked, it kind of seemed pointless and purely aesthetic. That’s really my only complaint. The lighting was well arranged, at no point taking me out of the production. The costuming was an intriguing mix of street clothes and strange character costumes (both for Great Gatsby and Moby Dick). Very interesting and creative choices. The costuming was done by Jerika Hucke, the lights and scenery were designed by Lee Keenan, the choreography (also very well orchestrated) was brought in by Jessica Beth Redish, and the sound was accomplished thanks to Kevin O’Donnell.
For a show with 3 one hour acts and 2 fifteen minute intermissions, I have to say that I was surprisingly enthralled. Most people wouldn’t have the attention span to sit through three hours. I know that I normally don’t, but it didn’t seem to matter with Season on the Line. The symbolic representation between the actual Moby Dick and Season on the Line is so well thought out and accurate. This show has prompted me to actually go back and re-read Moby Dick. If there were anything I could change it would be the run time (or maybe the pool), but I don’t even know how you’d manage to shorten it. Every little detail is masterfully represented and would lose so much artistic worth if it were cut at all. Don’t let the length deter you from this show, but before you go buy tickets for the whole family you should know that this play is wrought with sexual innuendo, some language, and some intense moments. Season on the Line is an honest, accurate, and romantic look at what life is like behind the curtain and it shows us just how stressful that life can be. I just hope this goes to show that not all of us reviewers have nothing but bad things to say, I promise!
By: John Stuckert
Reviewed on October 5, 2014
For more info checkout the Season on the Line page at theatreinchicaho.com
Presented by the House Theatre Company at the Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division St. Chicago, IL Purchase tickets either at www.thehousetheatre.com or by calling (773) 769-3832. Tickets range from $25-$35 for regular tickets or $10 with a student ID. Running from Friday, September 12 through Sunday, October 26. Regular performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sundays and Mondays at 7 PM Run-time: 3 hours in 3 acts with two 10-15 minute intermissions.